Hesperian Health Guides

Health care in the factory

Many factory owners do not offer on-site medical services. When they do, services may be limited, and sometimes not very good. Factory-paid doctors and nurses, although not part of management, may be pressured to prioritize production over improving workers’ health. But conscientious health workers can be important sources of information and valuable allies for workers.

Without adequate care, minor illnesses or injuries can become major problems. Factory policies around health care can make problems worse. These include rules that make it difficult for workers to get time off or that dock their pay when they go to a doctor, when they need time to recover from an illness or injury, or to care for illness in their families. Expensive health services also prevent workers from getting the care they need.

Care and support for injured workers

The factory should pay medical costs for workers injured on the job. This includes emergency transport and care for injuries, chronic strain and overuse problems, and problems from chemicals, noise, and heat or cold.

Health education classes

Some unions and employers arrange for worker education during the workday on HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, reproductive health, nutrition, and other health issues. Factory owners support this because it reduces worker illness, absence, and turnover, and so increases worker productivity.

Health promotion in factories

The HERproject of Business for Social Responsibility has been trying to improve health by training workers and supervisors as “peer health educators.” They developed a 12-part curriculum to train workers on many health topics, including women’s health. Workers then share it further with their co-workers.

In Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, where hypertension and diabetes is common, 50 peer educators were trained to share knowledge with 1,000 co-workers in an electronics factory during breaks, meals, and on commuter buses. The factory clinic then provided checkups to support the health education, including screenings for diabetes, breast and uterine cancer, and high blood pressure, as well as vaccinations, a health fair, and pregnancy and childcare counseling. One of the participants said, “the program provided a way for women to become spokespersons to workers with factory management about important health issues.”

First aid and emergency care

Even if there is no clinic in the factory, it is important that every workplace has first aid supplies and provides training to help you and your co-workers respond to emergencies. Training should happen regularly so that if a trained worker leaves, there will be others ready to take her place.

First aid supplies should be kept in safe, clean places throughout the factory. Workers should be able to access them easily. The contents of your first aid supply kit will depend on the kinds of work you do, but all kits should include materials to treat common injuries such as burns, cuts, falls, and other injuries. The materials themselves will not be useful if the factory does not ensure that workers and supervisors have been trained in how to do first aid and stabilize an injured person until they can get to help. Each set of first aid supplies should also include the telephone numbers for local ambulance companies as well as hospitals and clinics.

ActivityAn emergency plan for your factory

Use the activity Draw a map of your factory, to identify some of the dangers workers face. Then organize a discussion to find answers:

  • Where on their bodies are workers getting hurt most often?
  • What machines are the most dangerous?
  • What kind of attention and help do injured workers receive?
  • What actions do the factory owners take to resolve problems?
Use this information along with known risks such as fire, electrical failures, earthquakes, and so forth, in your campaign to create with your employer an emergency plan for your factory.

An emergency plan not only includes first aid kits and immediate treatments, such as eye washes or showers, but also a detailed response system that answers:
  • Who is responsible for responding first to an emergency?
  • What should the person do? For example: Should they cut power to machinery? or How should they deal with blood if a worker is bleeding?
  • Where can they get additional help from a health worker?
  • When and how should they transport an injured worker to the clinic or hospital?