Spot cleaning area in apparel factories can pose a potential health hazard. Solvents are used as cleaning agents. If inhaled, the vapor of solvents can cause serious respiratory problems. Many solvents can cause dermal diseases. The code of conduct requires factories to minimize the workers’ exposure in this area.
Apparel pieces while passing through various manufacturing processes do get stained. Through staining can be minimized using the correct production procedures, it cannot be eliminated completely. Minimizing spots and stains during sewing, locating the spot cleaning stations near the window, using safe solvents and providing appropriate personal protective equipment to operators can substantially reduce the health risk.
How to implement the code of conduct
In order to make the spot cleaning section compliant, the following basic measures should be taken:
- The factory should use clear sewing machine oil to prevent stains caused by dark machine oil.
- Spot cleaning section should be well-ventilated. It is better to locate it near a window and enclose the area by partitions so that the chemical vapor does not extend to other sections.
- Spot cleaning workers should be given appropriate PPE such as respiratory mask, solvent-proof gloves, water-proof aprons and goggles.
- Use safe cleaning products. Some popular spot cleaning agents are dangerous for health and should be avoided.
- Rotate workers in the spot cleaning operation so that they spend reduced time in spot cleaning thereby reducing exposure.
- Pregnant workers should not be deputed for spot cleaning work.
- It is better to use vacuum table/spot cleaning stations instead of the conventional method of running the operation on an ordinary table. A spot cleaning table is fitted with a vacuum device which extracts the chemical vapors away from the table surface.
- The spot cleaning section should also have an exhaust system to extract the vapor out.
- Exhaust pipes carrying the vapor should be positioned outside the factory premises in an isolated area.
Safe spot cleaning solvents
Factories should use spot cleaning solvents which are relatively safe for the workers and the environment. Apparel factories should consider the following factors while deciding on a spot cleaning solvent:
Avoid using solvents that contain harmful chemical such as carcinogens, mutagens, chemicals that deplete ozone, and chemicals known for other health hazards.
Solvents with the following chemical should be avoided:
Formaldehyde, 1,1,1 – trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, methylene chloride, perchloroethylene (perc), and hydrochlorofluorocarbons.
Workers must use butyl rubber gloves, safety goggles and air purifying respirators or other PPE as recommended in the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) while using or handling solvents.
Using safe solvents for spot cleaning
Most codes of conduct have standard for the safe use and storage of spotting solvents with varying degrees of enforcement. Textile and clothing factories use spotting solvent to remove stains from the products. Stains may be caused by machine oil, felt pens, markers, grease, dirty fingers, food, poor handling, dust or careless transportation from one department to another. Since stains can lead to quality objections and rejection of goods, factories make best efforts to remove them. The tendency is to use strong solvent agents for quick removal. Strong agents more often mean harmful solvents. Many factories use locally packaged strong solvents with no knowledge of their harmful effects.
Solvents are extensively used in footwear and toy manufacturing also. The following information can be useful in determining safe solvents.
Type of solvents
Commonly used spot cleaning solvents can be grouped in two broad categories:
- Halogenated hydrocarbons
Example of halogenated hydrocarbons include 1,1,1 trichloroethane, trichloroethane, dichloromethane and bromochloromethane.
Examples of olefins include isoparafinic hydrocarbon blends and aliphatic hydrocarbon blends.
Health hazard from solvents
Workers can be exposed to solvents by inhalation or skin contact. If sporting operators eat or drink with solvent contaminated hands, the solvents can enter the body through food. Clothing contaminated with solvents can cause exposure to the family members of the operator. Apart from spot cleaning operator using solvents, workers in the nearby areas are also exposed to inhaling solvent vapor or mist.
Exposure to solvents can lead to headache, nausea, lowered coordination of body parts, irritation in eyes, nose, lungs and skin. Prolonged exposure to skin can cause skin disease such as dermatitis. Some categories of solvents can cause cancer. Exposure to solvents can lead to several health complications in pregnant workers. The same is true for workers already suffering from respiratory problems, such as asthma.
Selecting safe spotting solvents
Knowing the flammability, risk, phrase, signal words, hazard warning, and Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) of solvents can help in selecting a relatively safe solvent. This information can be found in the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) supplied by the solvent manufacturer.
Solvents having high flammability can increase the risk of fire. Therefore, solvents with lower flash point should be avoided. As a general guideline, solvents having a flash point below 21 degrees should not be used. Solvents having flash point between 21 and 55 degrees offer relatively lower risk. Solvents having a flash point above 55 degree are considered very safe in term of flammability.
Risk Phrases, Signal Words, Hazard Warning
MSDS also contains information on risk phrase known as R-phrase. R-phrase, widely used in the European Union countries, is an internationally accepted indicator of potential hazards and risks of chemicals. R-phrase indicates hazard for human beings or for the environment. R-phrase may be indicate as a single risk phrase such as R-20 or may appear in a combination such R-36/37/38. R-20 indicates “harmful by inhalation” and R-36/37/38 means “irritating to eyes, respiratory system and skin,” for example.
The International Labor Organization has categorized R-phrase in seven groups of increasing hazard in order to distinguish hazards of different chemicals. Group A indicates the least hazardous and Group E indicates the most hazardous.
Single word and hazard statement are widely used to indicate chemical hazards in the US under a regulation by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and labeling standards of American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Signal words are used on labels and MSDS in order of decreasing severity, such as Danger, Warning and Caution. Examples of hazard warning are “Harmful if inhaled and “Causes severe burns.”
Occupational Exposure Limits
Occupational Exposure Limits (OEL) information can help in bringing down the exposure limits within acceptable range. OEL is expressed as Occupational Exposure standards (OES) and Maximum Exposure Limits (MEL). A solvent with OES would be safe if the exposure does not exceed the OES level. In the case of MEL, the exposure must be significantly reduced below the MEL level to make its use safe. It may be noted that MEL is usually assigned to very harmful chemical agents such as carcinogens. Using OEL and MEL requires periodic measurement of atmospheric pollutants to determine that actual exposure.
Safe Use Practices
Factories should strive to reduce the use of spot cleaning solvents as much as possible. They should investigate and indentify reasons for stains and find way to remove factors that cause stains. However, it is understood that stains cannot be avoided in certain situations. Therefore, the goal should be to minimize the occurrence of stains in order to reduce consumption of solvents. This will also save cost in term of man-hours spent on removing stains.
Whenever possible, factories should use spot cleaning solvents which safe relatively safer for health of workers’ as well as the environment. A general guideline is given below.
Avoid using solvents that contain harmful chemicals such as:
- Chemicals that deplete ozone such as 1,1,1 trichloroethane
- Chemicals known for other health hazards
Solvents with the following chemical should be avoided:
- 1,1,1 – trichloroethane
- Methylene chloride
- Perchloroethylene (perc)
Tools for using solvents
It is common for factories to use spray guns for applying solvents on stains. Spray guns create a mist or vapor that can be hazardous. Factories may try other methods, such as suing a soft flat brush or cloth pads to minimize vaporization. Using local exhaust and suction tables can greatly reduce the hazard.
Personal Protective Equipment
Workers must use butyl rubber gloves, safety goggles, apron and air purifying respirators or other PPE recommended in the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) while using or handling cleaning solvents.
Workers should also be trained in handling solvents in a safe manner. The training should include giving them full information on associated hazards and how to minimize the risk. The training should also include maintaining personal hygiene such as washing hands with soap before eating, drinking or going to the toilet to avoid ingestion or skin contact, and washing contaminated clothes in the factory in a safe manner rather than taking them home.