Fashion at the garment worker’s cost

Bangalore City

Textile workers are at the risk of occupational asthma and respiratory irritation from exposure to process dust, say doctors.

Sanchari Ghatak

It has been 14 years since Vishnuappa M has been working in Arvind cotton mill in order to earn his daily bread and butter. He has been facing breathing problems due to his long hours at the mill. “Whenever we start weaving the clothes, a speck of dust comes out, this directly goes into my lungs. Many workers have fallen ill in the past, and some even had to leave the field because of pulmonary diseases,” Vishnuappa told the SoftCopy.  

The workers engaged in the processing and spinning of cotton are exposed to significant amounts of cotton dust. The fatal disease of byssinosis, commonly known as brown lung, is a common diagnosis  among people working in the textile industry on account of excessive exposure to cotton dust. 

A research paper on Cotton dust exposure: Analysis of pulmonary function and respiratory symptoms by the Indian Chest Society reads, “Occupational lung disease is a major problem in workers working in various textile factories. The cotton mill workers work in various departments of the cotton mill like opening, picking, combing, weaving, slashing, and spinning during which exposure to raw cotton dust occurs. The acute exposure to cotton dust can produce feeling of chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, phlegm, and breathing difficulty. Long-term exposure to cotton dust may result in excessive chronic annual loss in forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1), and in higher proportions of persistent respiratory symptoms. Apart from respiratory symptoms and lung impairment, airway allergy and positive skin reactions were also noted in persons exposed to cotton dust.”

Hospital reports in the city show that most cases recorded of respiratory problems are from people who work in cotton mills and the textile industry. Pulmonologists at the Raja Rajeshwari hospital, Bangalore, said that they had recorded over 4000 cases of pulmonary diseases in cotton industry workers in the last five years.

Dr. Md Majeed Pasha, a pulmonologist at the hospital, said, “Those working in the textile and laundry Industries and their ancillary functions can experience health problems due to breathing in various specks of dust, fibres or fumes.” He suggested that they wear special masks to protect themselves.

According to an ESIC official, 80 per cent of all tuberculosis (TB) cases registered in 2009 were from garment workers.

The Factories Act requires employers to provide basic safety measures, including the provision of protective equipment. The Factories Act also binds the employer to maintain up-to-date health records of workers and to appoint a person experienced in handling hazardous substances to supervise handling, and provide protective measures and regular medical examinations.

K.H Nayak, regional director, Karnataka Labour Development Board, said, “The education and training of the laborers are important, and the laws must mandate the company owners to provide safety equipment.”

The Chief Factory Inspector of the Factory Inspectorate enforces The Factories Act. But a major problem is poor enforcement of the law. There are too few Factory Inspectors who are not even provided with adequate resources.


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