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Brett Emison
Brett Emison
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Did You Know… Textile & Cotton Workers Face Dangers of Brown Lung Disease?

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Brown lung disease can affect cotton and other textile workersBrown lung disease (also called cotton worker’s lung and known medically as byssinosis), is a chronic lung disease closely associated with the textile industry because it is caused by exposure to cotton dust during the handling and processing of cotton. After prolonged exposure to cotton dust, some workers experience chest tightness, coughing and wheezing which is caused by the obstruction of small airways in the lungs.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), says that the early symptoms of cotton dust exposure are reversible, but after prolonged exposure and development of byssinosis, the disease becomes irreversible and disabling. According to OSHA, by 1978, more than 100,000 workers were at risk of contracting byssinosis and some 35,000 had been permanently disabled by the disease.

Employers are required to protect their workers from cotton dust exposure by meeting maximum “permissible exposure limits”, based upon the type of operation being performed. This is accomplished by employing dust control programs and is monitored by measuring workplace dust levels at least every six months.

An employer’s dust control program must include, at a minimum, the following:

  • Cleaning floors with a vacuum or another method that cuts down the spreading of dust;
  • Disposing of dust in such a way that as little dust scatters as possible;
  • Using mechanical methods to stack, dump or otherwise handle cotton or cotton waste, when possible;
  • Checking, cleaning, and repairing dust control equipment and ventilation systems.

If these measures do not provide a level of safety equal to a personal respirator, employers must provide employees with respirators including ensuring that employees are fitted for the respirator and providing instruction on using, cleaning and maintaining the equipment.

Additionally, employers must provide free annual medical checkups (more frequent checkups are required if substantial health changes are observed), and annual training on the dangers and management of cotton dust.

Textile manufacturing employers are responsible for providing a safe working environment for their employees. When these employers put their own profits above employees’ health and well-being, and when these employees face devastating and permanent injuries, the employers should be held accountable and employees should be compensated.

(c) Copyright 2011 Brett A. Emison

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  1. Scott Newton says:
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    The problem is that people underestimate the risk of airborne particulates. I wear a simple mask (http://www.envirosafetyproducts.com/3m-8511-n95-respirator.html) even when working in the yard. Years of exposure will generate lung problems later.