Exposure to cotton dust: The workers engaged in the processing and spinning of cotton are exposed to significant amounts of cotton dust. They are also exposed to particles of pesticides and soil. Exposure to cotton dust and other particles leads to respiratory disorders among the textile workers. The fatal disease of byssinosis, commonly known as brown lung, is caused among people working in the textile industry on account of excessive exposure to cotton dust. The symptoms of this disease include tightening of the chest, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
In the year 1938 in USA, it was estimated that about 35000 people had already been affected by the disease, while 100000 other people were at risk of contracting it. Hence the Occupational Safety and Health Administration i.e. OSHA made it compulsory for employers in the textile industry to protect their workers from over exposure to cotton dust and its evil effects. The OSHA determined certain guidelines which are applicable to all private employers in the US textile industry.
OSHA has laid down a Cotton Dust Standard with a view to reducing the exposure of the workers to cotton dust and protecting them from the risk of byssinosis. It has set up Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) for cotton dust for different operations in the textile industry. This standard has helped bring down the rate of occurrence of byssinosis significantly. Different states might adopt different standards for occupational safety and health; however, in those states where there are no standards fixed by the State, the Federal standards are accepted.
For an eight-hour day, the OSHA Cotton standard has been determined at 200 micrograms of cotton dust per cubic meter of air in case of yarn manufacturing, 500 micrograms in case of textile waste houses, 750 micrograms in case of weaving operations, and 1000 micrograms in case of for waste recycling. Employers are required to measure the quantity of respirable cotton dust once in 6 months or whenever there is any change that might lead to a change in the level of dust. If the level of dust in the atmosphere is higher than that as per OSHA guidelines, the management should take measures to reduce the same. As per these guidelines, the employer is required to inform the employees in writing of the dust level present in the atmosphere as well as the steps that the management is planning to take for its reduction. If the dust level cannot be reduced, it is the duty of the management to provide respirators to the employees.
The OSHA Cotton Dust Standard was amended in the year 2000, which exempted a method of washing cotton from the rule.
A study conducted by R. Steinberg, J. Hannak and K. Balakrishnan regarding textile units in India revealed that pulmonary function in textile workers decreased significantly with exposure to cotton dust over a long period of time. Another study conducted on textile units in Mumbai, India indicated an 11-33% incidence of chronic bronchitis in textile workers. Another study revealed an increase in the rate of occurrence with an increase in exposure to cotton dust.
Studies have revealed that acute respiratory diseases are more common among the children working in carpet weaving units in Jaipur as compared to other children in the same city. The prevalence of respiratory diseases among child textile workers was 26.4%, while it was 15.2% among other children. Experts believe that this is on account of high exposure to cotton dust.