The Issues: Health & Safety

A safe and hygienic working environment is not just good for workers, it’s good for business. A happy and healthy workforce, free from accidents, injury or sickness, is a more productive one.

There is no more stark reminder of the importance of health and safety than the Rana Plaza factory fire in April 2013, which killed 1,134 Bangladeshi garment workers. Although this led to improvements in the industry with the establishment of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire And Building Safety and the Alliance for Bangladesh Building Safety, Rana Plaza was not the first factory fire to disrupt the fashion industry, nor was it the last. 

Hazards in fashion supply chains

Potential hazards in garment supply chains range from carrying heavy loads during cotton harvesting and transportation, inhalation of dust or fibres during ginning or spinning, exposure to harmful chemicals during dying, printing or finishing processes, excessive noise or heat in the workplace, lack of protective clothing or equipment, blocked fire doors and emergency exits, and failure to adhere to building safety regulations. 

  • In 2015, there were 1.4 million injuries recorded in fashion industry supply chains, equivalent to 5.6 injuries per 100 workers. This compares to just 2.5 injuries per 100 workers in the sports manufacturing industry (Pulse of the Fashion Industry).
  • In Cambodia, the ILO’s Better Factories research revealed non-compliance on health and safety issues ranging from poor workers’ accommodation, lack of first aid facilities, inadequate lighting and ventilation.
  • 97% of factories in Indonesia have reported at least one health and safety related incident.
  • If the fashion industry were to succeed in preventing all workplace injuries, it could save 32 billion euros a year (Pulse of the Fashion Industry).

Health and safety also relates to the overall wellbeing of workers. Workers subjected to excessive overtime, or not given sufficient rest time, may be more susceptible to illness or accident through tiredness. Levels of heat and ventilation, access to safe drinking water and clean toilet facilities are all important for the ongoing wellbeing of workers. 

With a high proportion of women working in the fashion industry, companies must pay particular attention to the rights and needs of female workers, including during pregnancy and maternity, adapting work patterns and providing additional facilities where required.

Take Action

Companies can support progress by:

  • ensuring awareness of specific hazards in production sites, including building and fire regulations, and taking action to prevent accident and injury;
  • designating health and safety responsibility at management level, overseeing all implementation and monitoring of policies and programmes;
  • providing regular health and safety training for all workers;
  • providing effective protective clothing and equipment, and safe use and storage of any dangerous chemicals;
  • checking any accommodation or food provided is safe, clean and meets the basic health and nutritional needs of workers;
  • supporting freedom of association and the presence of trade unions in the workplace.

For more information:

Ethical Trading Initiative guidance on health and safety 

Fair Wear Foundation basic health and safety check guidance 

ILO Safe Work portal on health and safety issues 

ILO Better Factories(Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia) 

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