Occupational Health and Safety Program (OHSP)

At the stage of implementation, the EMS was operationalized.Clear definitions of roles, responsibilities and authorities for different categories of employees is pre-requisite. Simultaneously, training program, communication system, document control system, internal standards development, operational procedures and emergency plans were needed to be initiated.

The Need for an OHSP for Tannery Workers

Over the years there has been a consistent and mounting pressure from environmental, health, and labor institutions for better health measures in the tanning industry. However, the conditions governing international trade in leather and leather products have undergone notable changes. Today, the parameters checked by any reputed international company desirous of sourcing leather or leather products from a manufacturer in a developing country, are not merely confined to quality and price, but also to aspects such as compliance of the potential supplier with national labour safety standards, occasionally even with international standards and recommendations, provision of adequate welfare facilities to workers (e.g. clean toilets, washing facilities, etc.). Therefore, the safety and health of workers in manufacturing units are gaining increasing attention in the recent past.
United Nation Industrial development Organization (UNIDO) has been helping tanners and legislators of the developing countries to initiate and implement better environmental and occupational standards.

Hazards Related to Tannery Workers

The leather industry and in particular tanning processes are notorious for their deleterious environmental impacts and occupational health hazards. Work at tanneries involves a series of hazardous processes, presented in Table-1.


Trimming was done manually in all tanneries. Manual handling of raw hides causes physical contact with biological wastes. This is a common source of infections.


Prolonged contact with water in a very humid environment can be a cause of certain skin infections. Skin eczema can be developed if the ventilation is poor. Alkali hydroxides can irritate skin and their vapours can affect mucous membranes and respiratory track.

Un-Hairing and Liming

Sodium sulfide and sodium hydrogen sulfide can generate highly toxic hydrogen sulfide when it comes in contact with an acid. Hydrogen sulfide is also highly inflammable.

Deliming and Bating

If the sodium sulfide or the sodium hydrogen sulfide from the unhairing and soaking process are not washed properly then the acids in the process can generate hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide can cause pulmonary oedema, bronchitis and pneumonia.


Degreasing chemicals can cause skin rashes.


The hydrochloric, sulfuric and formic acids are used in concentrated form which can cause serious burns and adding them to water is also dangerous. Acid vapour can also affect mucous membranes and the respiratory track. Formic acid is inflammable.


In “one bath tanning” method, basic chromium sulfate is applied in an acid medium under which conditions only trivalent chrome (Cr+3) can be released. This is much less toxic than hexavalent chrome (Cr+6), which is toxic to bacteria at a concentration of 2 mg/l. For humans, hexavalent chromium or chromate is extremely hazardous including lung cancer, tumors and kidney inflammation at very low concentrations.
Chromium (III) oxide is also very caustic and a toxic hazard if inhaled.

Wet Finishing (Re-tanning, Dyeing and Fat Liquoring Process)

Acid and alkalis used in the process are caustic and can burn or irritate skin. Vapours can affect the respiratory system and other mucous membranes.
Extended exposure to humid atmosphere can cause joint pains and eczema. The chemicals in the water may cause dermatitis.

Drying of Leather

Problem related to heat are common in drying operations as workers are continuously exposed to heat.


The environmental impact of finishing operations is mainly related to the finishing chemicals (e.g. dyes and pigments dispersed in binder) which can reach effluent water or are emitted to the air, like solvent vapours or formaldehyde, which also cause occupational health problems.
Small tanneries are using hand spray for application of finishing material. Exhaust system used in finishing room do not work properly. The whole working becomes affected with the vapours of finishing material. Workers mask their nose and mouth with ordinary cloths. After finishing, the leather is subject to air-drying. Medium and large tanneries are using the automatic spay plant installed without the water circulation system. The water circulation system captures unused finishing material and hence provides better environmental conditions. Large tanneries use water based finishing material, whereas, small and medium tanneries use both solvent and water based finishing material.
In some large tanneries, buffing dust is ejected outside the tannery into the drain directly from the buffing section. In some tanneries, the buffing dust is collected by automatic dust collection system in the bags.In some tanneries, automatic dust collection system is not installed. Buffing is not carried out in all tanneries.

Existing OHS Condition of Korangi Tanneries

Based on the surveys conducted in January to October 2003, on the prevailing occupational safety and health standards at work in Korangi tannery cluster, the key challenges faced by the industries were found to be
Lack of awareness of existing health hazards & safety risks and their impact.
Limited know-how on how to deal with these in an appropriate way.
Old conventions stand in the way of giving workers proper medical care. They prefered to use conventional remedies instead of modern scientific approaches. The workers were not really aware of the environmental problems that they were facing. Having lived in these conditions, they had adapted to the situation and had very little motivation for change. The problem areas pertaining to occupational safety and health of workers were identified with specific reference to potential sources of hazards. The specific problem areas identified included:

Safety in Use of Chemicals at Work

Access to safety information on hazardous chemicals is limited by prevailing selling and distribution practices by local and international suppliers, the latter only catering directly to large-scale customers. Even in the latter case, material safety data sheets were not automatically provided with the chemicals, as was the common practice. At the same time, when provided, information from material safety data sheets was not translated into preventive or protective measures nor adequately explained to the storage and handling personnel.
Furthermore, the level of knowledge about proper storage and handling of particularly hazardous chemicals was very low. Measuring and mixing of chemicals was done manually in the medium scale tanneries. Use of gloves, apron, goggles, and masks during the handling of chemicals were not common. However, some tanneries provide these items to their workers. But workers did not pay much attention for using these accessories during the work, which mighted be the ignorance of these workers about the hazards of these chemicals. Chemicals were not properly labeled. Also the labeling and precautions and separate sections for different chemical according to these health hazards were not found in most of the tanneries. Process control was generally absent.

Machine safety

Machines locally manufactured generally lack basic safety installations such as active and passive safety devices. But most small and medium scale tanners use these machines because they are inexpensive. Standards of machine safety therefore are particularly low in these segments. Manufacturers supply these machines of old unsafe designs, as their customers demand these. Improper design and poor maintenance practices result in exposure to high levels of noise. Equally, poor quality and unsatisfactory maintenance of electrical installations, inadequate for the corrosive and humid work conditions in tanneries, leave workers at risk of electric shocks and fatal accidents.
At the same time, little attention is paid to measures which might contribute to improved quality or productivity, for example proper lighting, workplace layout, alternative means of handling material, improved house keeping, etc.

Personal Protection and Emergency Preparedness

The limited knowledge and awareness about the existing health hazards and safety risks at work result in a corresponding inadequate protection of tannery workers as well as unsatisfactory preparedness for fire or medical emergencies.

Preventive Measures of Tannery Workers

1. Wear safety shoes with non-slip soles.
2. Fences and post warning signs around open pits in the tannery.
3. Examine and repair faulty or suspect electric equipments.
4. Wear protective goggles and respiratory protection during buffing work.
5. Do not ever enter a confined space when you are alone. To enter such a space, put on respiratory protection equipment and have a co-worker stand-by to call a rescue team in case of weakness, asphyxiation or poisoning.
6. Keep a high level of personal hygiene; change cloths at the beginning and end of shift; do not take work-soiled cloths home.