Hesperian Health Guides

Keep information about work and health

Many countries have laws that require the factory to keep records about accidents and workers’ health problems. These records can help you determine the most dangerous areas of your factory, whether workers from one part of the factory are getting the same illnesses, and what type of accidents happen most often. This can help you work with the factory management to lower the number of illnesses and injuries in the plant. Ask your employer to share this information with you.

Many employers will not share this information. In any case, it is a good idea to keep your own records and show other workers how to do the same. One important thing about keeping your own health notebook is that you can take it with you from one job to another. You will not lose the record of your exposures to chemicals or how many days of serious headaches you have had just because you change factories.

2 workers speaking to a boss outside a door labeled "Records room: do not enter."
If we combine your records with ours, we will have more information to make the factory safer.
The factory will be more efficient, with less time lost to accidents and illnesses.

Keep a notebook

Keep a record of your own work and health history, including details about working conditions, chemicals used, and signs of health problems, especially when you are starting a new job. Pictures and videos of your workplace or of a rash on your body, for example, can be helpful too. This information can help a doctor find out what is happening to you. It is useful for lawyers, OSH professionals, union organizers, journalists, and others helping you. Keeping a notebook will help you understand your own body and work conditions better.

a notebook and pencil.
You will see this symbol throughout the book to remind you to write work dangers and health problems in your notebook.

Your health: Keep a simple daily record of your health. At first it might be easier to write only what hurts or makes you feel sick, such as when you have a fever or a rash. But if you write something every day, you will begin to notice more about how your body feels and changes from day to day. Record information about headaches, dizziness, rashes, and breathing problems, which are problems often connected to chemicals. Include health problems that may not be related to your work as well. And if you have medical test results, save a copy, take a photo of it, or write down as much as you can remember about it.

Your jobs and employers: Every time you start a new job, write down as much information as possible about your employer. Include the name of the company, the exact address (take a picture if you can), and the names of your bosses and supervisors. If the company is sold or you get a new boss, update that information in your notebook. Also note trainings, medical checks, or certifications you received while working there. Note when chemicals are changed and new chemicals are added in your work process.

Review your notebook with other workers: Review what you have noticed about your own health and problems at work with others who may also keep notebooks. Look for common problems around common dates. What might have caused them? If you find that a change in cleaning chemicals gave everyone a headache, for instance, that can give you more reason to suggest to your boss that he find a safer and better cleaner. Sometimes a health and safety committee will collect information into a combined notebook for a work area or an entire factory.

Help measure dangers at work

You can help safety and health professionals in your factory by monitoring and measuring dangers. This is a good activity for small groups of workers in the same work area because it helps workers come up with solutions and tracks whether changes solve the problems or not.

Some dangers can only be measured by using special equipment or tests, for example, measuring how much of a chemical is in the air you breathe (see Testing for chemicals). But you can take a lot of measurements with just your senses.

These are some of the dangers you can help measure and some ways you can measure them:

a worker speaking to another as they lift bundles from a cart.
Let’s count how many bundles we move today.
  • Ergonomics: Count how many hand movements you make for each part and how many parts you produce each hour, shift, or day.
  • Heat and cold: Measure how hot or cold the air is with a thermometer.
  • Fire: Count how many fire exit doors are in your factory and how many exit doors are locked during the work shift. (None should be locked!)
  • Discrimination: Compare the pay of men and women workers.
  • Violence: Count how many workers have been threatened or hit by the supervisor.
  • Access to toilets: Count how many toilets there are in the factory, how many are unlocked, and how many are clean.

Write in your notebook any accidents at work, for example, a chemical spill or any situation that puts workers in danger. Count how many times these happen in a month, and in which areas of the factory. This will allow you to measure how dangerous an area or time period is. Write down date and time, exactly what happened, if people were injured, if police, inspectors, or ambulances were called, and any other information that might be helpful.