around the worldThe rampant use of toxic chemicals at almost every workplace is putting the huge number of the country's workforce at high health risk, as according to a survey, at least 21 people die in Bangladesh every month due to use of such chemicals.

"Indiscriminate use of chemicals at almost every workplace is a common phenomenon in our country. Hundreds of people die annually thanks to their hazardous work, particularly in ship-breaking, tannery and chemical industries as well as farming, which are in the top death ranks," said National Expert on Chemical Safety Shahriar Hossain.

Two million a year

According to a survey conducted recently by Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE), at least 21 people die in Bangladesh due to toxic chemicals each month.

As per an International Labour Organization (ILO) report, about two million people die annually across the world due to chemical related diseases while about 160 million people are affected by such diseases.

In one-third of these cases, the report said, illness causes loss of working days and increases number of accidents at work places.

Studies show...

Citing different studies in Bangladesh, Shahriar said, "Around 85 per cent farmers exposed to toxic and hazardous pesticides and other chemicals during their work while more than 30 per cent of them become seriously ill."

In the ship-breaking industries, he said, more than 1000 workers have been killed due to chemical poisoning since 1996 in the country, while around 20,000 tannery workers are at high health risk.

Almost all workers are exposed to toxic chemicals at their work stations while three hundred to five hundred workers lose their jobs due to serious illness every year, said the ILO report.

According to a study jointly conducted by ILO, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and signed by Regional Technical Assistance Agreement (RETA) in November 2000, the occupational health and safety service in Bangladesh is still at the developmental stage.

Like other developing countries, pre-existing malnutrition and a high prevalence of infectious disease, however, frequently compound the problems of exposure to occupational hazard.

A World Health Organization report said long-term exposure to pesticides can increase the risk of developmental and reproductive disorders, immune-system disruption, endocrine disruption, impaired nervous-system function, and development of certain cancers and children are at higher risk from exposure than are adults.

Lack of knowledge, awareness

Expressing concern over uncontrolled use of chemicals at workplaces, Labour Advisor of Bangladesh Employers' Federation (BFF) Kazi Saifuddin Ahmed said, "Lack of knowledge and awareness of owners and labourers are also responsible for the hazard...both the owners and workers will have to be conscious to minimize the health risk."

Dermatologist of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Dipak Kumer Das said, the chemicals can enter human body in three ways —inhalation (when chemical is in gas, vapor or fume form and enter by breathe,) absorption (when it passes through the skin, eyes) and ingestion (when chemicals goes in to mouth).

The toxicity of chemicals, said the expert, affects respiratory, renal, cardiovascular, reproductive, nervous, immune systems of human body and also creates different skin problems.