Heat Stress Impacts on Garment Workers due to Climate Change

After the tragic incidence at Savar, the world is busy in calculating the cost of a worker’s life, government’s system of labour inspections, right of workers to unionize, etc.  For an example, a comparative calculation of the cost of making a denim shirt by the Institution of Global Labour and Human Right has shown three times as much in the U.S. as it does in Bangladesh. There are many both sided advantages in this business, and therefore the fact of safer and healthy working place is an essential element for labour and Bangladesh is not excluded in that.  The Occupational Health and Safety Services in Bangladesh, is neither well organized nor considered by some cases and generally does not completely cover all recognized occupations. Moreover different ministries such as railway, port and shipping, jute, textile etc. operate the occupational health care program through various departments and directorates is also inadequate

Nevertheless dying section of textile industries is the department where workers need to work in ruthless environment. Heating is obligatory here in the whole process. The factors that mainly make up a dyeing profile are: time for dyeing, the time at which chemicals are added or temperature is altered; the temperature; the pH after adding of soda ash. The time required in total is approximately 8 hours for any shade and if the shade does not match, it requires additional time and temperature.

In the whole process of dyeing, workers need to monitor the color of the fabric and maintain the timing of adding salt, chemicals, dye, and the temperature; also pH recording. Washing is another important step in dyeing where manual handling requires moving the buckets and stock up the machines with fabrics. During this monitoring and handling process, repeated mistakes and accidents are done by the workers especially during hot days and at the end of scheduled working hours.

A NASA study concluded that when the temperature is 95° F (35 degree C) for an extended period, people can make 60 mistakes per hour – without realizing it. When the ambient temperature reaches 95° F (350 C), almost half of the blood moves to the skin to produce moisture (in the form of perspiration) to naturally cool the body. The heart is pumping up to 150 beats per minute with less volume to get the blood to the skin. That means the rest of the organs, including the brain and muscles, are only operating on half the blood they normally need. This interferes with cognitive thinking skills and can provoke emotions such as anger. Moreover serious illness or death occurs with an increase of 50F in the normal body temperature. Furthermore many different studies on occupational health (in South India, Vietnam, Nicaragua and South Africa) say heat stress also decrease work productivity that can have a negative impact on family income and the community economy. To achieve the daily/ monthly target, workers may need to work longer hours, or more workers may be required, and there will be economic impact negatively and/or occupational health interventions against heat exposures. The management of heat stress at the workplace requires efforts from all stakeholders and not placing the burden only on the employees themselves. The stakeholders should include the employer as well as responsible government agencies both at the local and central levels. Interviews with the governmental officer from the local health Center revealed that there is a lack of awareness with regards to policy concerning maximum heat exposure at work. Moreover, the impact of heat on workers health has not been considered as a priority in Occupational Health and Safety regulations in Bangladesh. There are many contemporary methods worldwide which includes both technical and behavioral, to reduce heat exposure and increase work efficiency. According to WHO, adherence to such principles avoids undue sick leave and disability, minimizes medical costs as well as costs associated with high turnover such as training, and increases long-term productivity and quality of products and services. 

Bangladesh’s precarious position with respect to climate change has elevated awareness of national vulnerabilities both domestically and internationally. There have been numerous studies of climate change impacts in Bangladesh, they have provided climate projections with quantifying economical impacts or tended as well. In Bangladesh, loss due to climate change is about 2 per cent of its annual GDP. With all damages together, total loss could be 3 to 4 per cent of the GDP according to CVM2. As the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, launched the second edition of Climate Vulnerability Monitor (CVM) in 2012 by saying,

“One degree Celsius rise in temperature is associated with 10% productivity loss in farming. For us, it means losing about four million metric tonnes of food grain, amounting to about US$ 2.5 billion”

 In textile industry the economical loss due to worker’s heat stress is indiscernible but cannot be ignored. Hothaps (High Occupational Temperature Health and Productivity Suppression) is a health research and prevention program by Umea University, Sweden and Australian National University facilitates studies in any part of the world to assess the impacts of heat exposure on occupational health and work capacity. This research is very decisive in the context of Bangladesh to calculate this unapparent loss which is contributing in the national GDP loss annually. Bangladesh is rich in solar and wind power, to use for various airs cooling systems.

This is the crucial time for Bangladesh to ensure a healthy working place, especially for textile workers who are the giant contributors of national income.

Juma Rahman.

MBBS,MPH (Global Health)

School of Global Studies, THAMMASAT UNIVERSITY



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