Hesperian Health Guides

Work dangers are worse at home

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > Chapter 20: Doing factory work at home > Work dangers are worse at home

Although homework is similar to work in a factory, working at home is more dangerous. Homes do not have enough space to create safe workstations or to store materials and chemicals safely. They often lack the lighting, ventilation, and safe electrical wiring needed for work to be safe. And if there is a health or safety problem, it can affect everyone in the family.


Materials near kitchen fires or stoves, outlets, or other sources of heat (lamps, heaters, or cigarettes) can burn. Homes often catch fire more easily than factories, and even a small fire can spread quickly. Prevent fires in your home:

  • Keep materials away from heat, flames, or electricity sources.
  • Keep electrical wires dry.
  • Unplug machines when you are not using them.
  • Avoid overloading wires by not using many machines and appliances at the same time.
  • Keep chemical containers tightly closed when not in use and make sure there is good ventilation to get rid of fumes.
  • Do not smoke in the home or near materials that can burn quickly.

If a fire does start in your home, be prepared to put it out:

Eliminate one of the things fire needs to burn. Fires need material and air (oxygen) to burn. Small fires can be smothered by removing one of those elements. For example, if a fire starts in a cooking pot, covering it with a lid will stop it because it will not have air.

a woman speaking as she sits at a sewing machine in a house; 2 buckets of water are on the floor nearby.
As a community we decided that every home would store 2 buckets of water.

Extinguish fires with dirt, sand, or water from a container that you keep by your work area in case of fire. For electrical or chemical fires, use sand or dirt to put them out, not water. For cloth fires, use water or a fire extinguisher (learn how to make one).

Protect yourself. If you try to put out a fire, always stay between the fire and the door so you can leave if you must. Cover your nose and mouth with a cloth or mask to keep some of the smoke out of your lungs

Prepare your family and community about what to do in case of fire:

Practice escaping from the house with your family, discuss how to get help, and where to meet afterwards.

Write down the phone numbers of fire stations in your community and make sure people have these numbers.

Decide on a community alarm (like banging on a steel pipe) to let others know there is a fire, to get out, and to get help. Choose fire spotters to sound the alarm.

Work together to stop a fire. Make sure you know where to find water, sand, or other materials to stop the fire, and which to use on different types of fires.


Chemicals used at home may get in your food, water, and air. Commonly used cleaners (solvents) and glues can cause both short- and long-term health problems, including dizziness, breathing problems, skin and eye irritation, cancer, and even death. See Chapter 8: Chemical dangers, and Appendix B: Common chemicals and materials, to find information about the chemicals you are working with. If you find no information, treat them as if they are dangerous.

a child reaching up toward a locked cabinet labeled "chemicals for work."
chemicals for work
  • Limit contact with the chemical. Use personal protective equipment (see Chapter 18) to keep it off your skin and out of your eyes.
  • Wash your hands and work areas, and afterwards do not use those cleaning cloths or water for anything else.
  • Do not use household containers to store chemicals. If you do, remove all labels and write the chemical name on the container. Label all containers with words like "DANGER" and "DO NOT TOUCH" to remind yourself and your family that it is dangerous.
  • Never use a container that held a chemical for another purpose. Even if you wash it really well, the container can still have chemicals.
  • Keep chemical containers covered and inside shallow containers to catch spills and leaks.
  • Store chemicals away from children’s reach.
  • Store chemicals in a locked cabinet or outside shed.
  • Do not smoke, eat, drink, or cook near chemicals.


Small threads and dust from garments can cause difficulty breathing, allergies, coughing, and skin rashes. Sometimes dust is too small to be seen. Protect yourself with good ventilation (see Chapter 17) and by using a face mask to cover your mouth and nose. Learn about face masks and how to make one.

Dust buildup on exposed wires can catch fire. Keep electrical boxes closed.

Strain and overuse

To reduce injury and pain from doing the same movements many times:

  • Place tools and materials you need close by your workspace. Reaching repeatedly for them can hurt your body.
  • Support your wrists, elbows, back, legs, and feet while you work. If a part of your body hurts while working or after, try a different position.
  • Take breaks. Look away from your work to let your eyes rest, and move and stretch your body.
  • Get a comfortable chair with back support.

For more on strain and overuse problems, see Chapter 7: Ergonomics.

an anxious-looking woman speaking.
My contractor wants the order finished, my husband wants dinner, my mother has to go to the clinic, and the children need attention! But at least no supervisor tells me what to do!
With so many demands on your time, when do you take care of your needs?


The constant sound of a machine, especially if it is loud, can harm your hearing. See Chapter 13 to learn more about noise and how to make earplugs.


It is normal to feel stressed, anxious, or sad when you are overtired and overwhelmed from pressure at work and at home. Feeling stress is not only uncomfortable, but over time it can lead to high blood pressure, headaches, weakened immune system, and muscle tension. You can reduce the harm from stress to your body and mind.