Hesperian Health Guides

How factory work can harm your health

In this chapter:

There are often many dangers to workers’ health in a factory. In this book, the word "danger" means a condition in the workplace (or the community) that can harm you. Not all workers will be injured, made ill, or affected by a danger they experience, but some will. The health problem (usually an injury or illness) may affect workers immediately or may not affect them until many years in the future. For example, a worker may have a skin rash now that is caused by contact with chemicals. Another worker may become sick with cancer many years after he was exposed to chemicals.

Some problems caused by work may not show up until after work has ended, so you may not think of them as a health problem caused by work. For example, some chemicals lessen a person’s desire for sex or their ability to enjoy sex. Other dangers at work are also common dangers in our communities. For example, unsafe drinking water or air pollution.

Some health problems are caused by "work dangers." These dangers are often easy to see and may be fairly easy to solve. Some work dangers are:

  • repetitive movements
  • factory fires
  • chemical exposures
  • poor ventilation
  • spoiled food, unsafe water, and lack of access to clean bathrooms

Some health problems are caused by "social dangers," the unfair and unjust social conditions inside and outside the factory. Some social dangers are:

  • low wages
  • working shifts that change from week to week and working nights
  • threats or harassment from your boss or other workers
  • too many working hours
  • discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or religion
  • working multiple jobs

While we feel the effects of work dangers and social dangers as individuals, these worker health problems are not individual problems. The problems harm us as a group, as workers in a factory doing our jobs together. More than almost any other area of health, worker health and safety can only be improved when workers organize to collectively confront and resolve the conditions of work that injure us and make us sick.