Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 12: Dust

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > Chapter 12: Dust

an old, dark, dirty garment factory and one that is newer, cleaner, and well-lit.
After so many improvements, why is there still dust in the factory?

Grinding, sanding, packing, sewing, handling, and cutting metal, plastic, fabric, leather, and other materials produces a lot of dust. Because it is so small, dust can easily go into your nose and mouth and onto your skin. And it can travel with you to your home in your clothing, hair, shoes, and skin.

Preventing dust from being produced is the best way of ensuring it does not pose any harm. Removing dust as it is produced is also good. Dust becomes a danger when it accumulates in the air and on equipment.

Some signs that there is too much dust in the factory are:

  • Workers wheeze or have difficulty breathing.
  • Workers cough, sneeze, and blow their noses often.
  • The mucus in workers’ noses is the color of shop dust.
  • Workers’ hair, face, and clothes are full of dust.
  • The floor, equipment, lights, windows, or walls are covered with dust.
  • The air in the factory is hazy.
Yolanda’s blue face

Yolanda worked in a jeans factory in Piedras Negras, Mexico. Every day, workers went home covered in blue jean dust. Their paper masks did little and the ceiling fan only moved dust around. Yolanda wondered, "If we’re covered with dust on the outside, what do we look like inside?"

At a union meeting, Yolanda agreed to work 1 day without wiping dust off her face to show how bad the problem was. By lunch, she was completely covered with blue fuzz. With other workers, Yolanda went to the manager. Yolanda’s blue face embarrassed the manager.

2 workers with Yolanda speaking to the boss; he replies.
Look at her face! We need extractors at each of our sewing machines!
And we need to know when you are going to get them.
You should have come earlier!

The manager agreed to ask the boss to install exhaust vents. The boss was unhappy, but knew if the inspectors found out he would get in trouble. He agreed to add one vent a week. When he did not, the women had to pressure him again. But finally, all the machines had extractors.