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Cover page of the Journal of Health Sciences


 
 Table of Contents  
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 14  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 254-259

Occupational safety and health hazards among cashew processing workers of Cuddalore district: A cross-sectional study


1 Department of Public Health, SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
2 Statistician, Evidencian Research Associates Private Limited - ERA, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission08-Jan-2021
Date of Acceptance03-May-2021
Date of Web Publication31-May-2021

Correspondence Address:
Miss. Janana Priya
161-H, Balaraman Nagar, Main Road, Nellikuppam, Cuddalore - 607 105, Tamil Nadu
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/kleuhsj.kleuhsj_6_21

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  Abstract 


BACKGROUND: Occupational health and safety is a major concern of all time despite consequent advancement in all forms of industries. As stated in multiple research papers from various parts of the nation, more than 90% of workers involved in cashew processing were females who are socially and economically backward.This paper aims to find the existing occupational health hazards of workers in the cashew processing unit and the level of safety measures adopted. In addition, the health outcome in relation to certain improvisations made in the process was also analyzed.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: Full-time workers from the cashew processing unit were selected as the study population through convenience sampling technique. This study was conducted on 200 workers from May 2019 to October 2019. For data collection, a semi-structured questionnaire was used to collect information on demography, working environment, and personal protective equipment (PPE) utilization; a Modified Nordic questionnaire for muskuloskeletal disorder and rapid upper limb assessment scale for ergonomic assessment. Descriptive analysis followed by Chi-square test was done to find the association between the nature of the job and hazards.
RESULTS: Muscular skeletal pain in the various regions holds a major part of all health hazards faced by the workers (low back pain [n = 72, 36%] and wrist/hand pain [n = 65, 32.5%]). The proportion of low back pain is highly noticed among shelling workers (79.2%) and wrist/hand pain among peeling (41.5%), roasting (21.5%), and grading (20%), respectively (P ≤ 0.001). The change from squatting shelling to machine shelling has reduced low back pain to some extent, but the overall hazard risk remains unchanged. The majority of workers were not provided with proper PPE, hand washing facilities, and medical facilities within the unit.
CONCLUSION: Prolonged work time due to piece-rate system and poor PPE utilization exacerbate hazards. In order to provide a healthy and safe workplace, it is important to identify, monitor, and reduce the risk associated with workplace hazards.

Keywords: Cashew workers, hazard, musculoskeletal disorder, occupational health, personal protective equipment


How to cite this article:
Priya J, Ayyasamy L, Mahendiran SM, Selvarathinam A. Occupational safety and health hazards among cashew processing workers of Cuddalore district: A cross-sectional study. Indian J Health Sci Biomed Res 2021;14:254-9

How to cite this URL:
Priya J, Ayyasamy L, Mahendiran SM, Selvarathinam A. Occupational safety and health hazards among cashew processing workers of Cuddalore district: A cross-sectional study. Indian J Health Sci Biomed Res [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Jun 17];14:254-9. Available from: https://www.ijournalhs.org/text.asp?2021/14/2/254/317416




  Introduction Top


The international labor organization stated that every 15 s, 153 employees experience work-related accidents worldwide. Occupational health and safety is a major concern eternally despite consequent advancement in all forms of industries. Roughly 1 out of 300 females is suffering from some occupation-related disease. On the global commodity markets, cashew is one of the most precious processed nuts traded and an important cash crop.[1] Nevertheless, cashew processing is a highly labor-intensive industry and has a long history of employing a large number of workers.[1],[2] In most cashew plantations and processing units, workers face several health problems such as irritation to fingertips, skin burns, dramatis, respiratory diseases, cancer, and reproductive disorders due to risks from their nature of work.[3] The cashew nut was formerly quoted as “rich man's food and poor man's crop,” as it is cultivated abundantly in underdeveloped and developing nations such as Africa, India, and Vietnam and exported to developed countries such as the US and UK. Today, Asian countries contribute more than 40% of global cashew production. The workers involved in each process were predominantly female from the poor economic and social backgrounds.[4],[5]

The process involves various stages of roasting/steaming, shelling, peeling, and grading, where the workers are exposed to various forms of health hazards.[6] The initial stages of cashew processing involve roasting, wherein some small units, the dried fruits are roasted under burning logs, where the heat causes the outer shells to burst open and release the caustic resin. The resin quickly catches fire, giving off fumes that can be injurious to the eyes and skin. However, in advanced methods of roasting (large scale units), the poisonous properties are dispelled in roasting drum/cylinders and emitted out through chimney. Ergonomic hazards include repetitive movements used such as in shelling and peeling which causes joint pains, uncomfortable workplace sitting positions which cause back pains, and poor body positioning in almost all the works involved with processing cashews.[7] Shelling involves cutting the outer shell of kernels and contact of trace cashew nut shell liquid at this point can cause irritation to fingertips and often results in skin burns. Formally, manual shelling is done where workers break the hard outer shell of the kernel by beating it with a wooden stick in squatting position. Now, the process has been mechanized and workers place kernels in equipment and trigger it a single time to break open each kernel. Peeling the skin of the cashew after shelling and grading them based on the size and quality is the final stage of the process where a large number of workers are involved. Peeling is done manually in small scale units where it has also been mechanized in some large-scale industries.

As a result of the above process, health issues such as muscular-skeletal disorder, skin disease, and respiratory problems have been reported by workers in previous consecutive researches. It is also noted that the preventive measures revised to reduce these hazards were poorly followed in the industry. Although Indian processors have traditionally been reliant on skilled labor resources for operations, many processors have gradually started the mechanization of operations, to remain competitive in the global markets.[3] Hence, evaluating the worker's standard at present would be thoughtful to conclude on the benefits of recent changes made in cashew processing units. The current study attempted to throw lights on the real picture of cashew processing workers in (Panruti) Cuddalore district where vast land segments are covered under cashew cultivation and remain unnoticed by researchers for years. The main objective of this paper is to assess all the existing occupational health hazards among the workers in the cashew processing unit and the level of safety measures adopted to prevent these hazards. This paper also tried to find the impact of the new shelling method and the association between various health hazards and the nature of the job carried out.


  Materials and Methods Top


Study design: The present study is a cross-sectional study done in the Cuddalore district to assess the major existing occupational health problems of workers in the cashew processing unit. Cuddalore is one of the major harvesting and processing centers of cashew in Tamil Nadu. There are around 32 export-oriented cashew production units in Panruti besides 250 processing units and more than 500 cottage industries. Study setting: The study period was 6 months, and data collection was done in both small-scale and large-scale processing units during summer which at the same time the epic season of cashew nut harvest. Study participants: Full-time workers from the cashew processing unit were included as the study population through convenience sampling technique. Both male and female workers were included in the present study, though there were predominately females in all processing units. The process of roasting and peeling was replaced by an advanced mechanism in large-scale units. Since these workers only involved in the loading and unloading of kernels, they were excluded from the study. Thus, roasting and peeling workers included in this study were predominantly from small-scale units. Workers employed part time and workers following the traditional method of shelling were excluded from the study. Sample size: The sample size of 200 was obtained with the prevalence of muskuloskeletal disorder (MSD) in the district as 15%, confidence interval-95%, and 5 nonresponse rate. Variables: Demographic variables (age, gender, education, and income); work description (work hours, break, working environment, and posture); health hazards (MSD regions, burns, stainings, respiratory issue, and eye irritation); and personal protective equipment (PPE) utilization (mask, cap, and gloves) were noted. Data source/measurement: Data collection from each worker was done through in-person interview in each unit. For data collection, a semi-structured questionnaire was used to collect information on demography, working environment, and PPE utilization; a Modified Nordic questionnaire for MSD and rapid upper limb assessment (RULA) assessment scale for ergonomic assessment. Data analysis: The collected data were cleaned and coded in excel. Statistical analyses were performed using SPSS 22.0 for Windows software (SPSS, Chennai, TN, India) was used for statistical analysis of data. Descriptive analysis was done, and results were expressed in frequency and percentage. To find the association between the nature of the job and hazards, Chi-square test was done. Limitation: The time duration for data collection was limited. Obtaining access to the cashew processing units was a big deal. This further affected the time period of data collection and some appropriate samples were missed.


  Results Top


The total number of workers included in the study was 200. Out of these, 93% (n = 186) were female and 7% (n = 14) were male [Table 1]. Most of the workers fall under the age group of 25–35 years (63%), followed by 36–45 years (21%). While 74% of workers earn more than 8000 per month, their educational status resides between middle school (n = 103, 51.5%) and high school (n = 88, 42%). When compared to other activity, shelling involves more workers (n = 92, 46%) which is also the high labor-intensive work. In the case of the working environment, 69% of workers are not provided with proper handwashing facilities, 63% do not possess any medical facility, and only 20.5% of workers reported the presence of exhausting fans within the unit. RULA assessment uniformly revealed moderate risk among shelling, peeling, and grading workers [Table 2].
Table 1: Demographic status of workers in cashew processing units (n=200)

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Table 2: Ergonomic assesment using rapid upper limb assessment scale

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Muscular skeletal pain in the various regions holds a major part of all health hazards faced by the workers. Looking deeper into the pattern and proportion of MSD region, it is evident that low back pain = 36% and wrist/hand pain = 32.5% holds a higher number [Table 3]. The proportion of low back pain is highly noticed among shelling workers (79.2%) and wrist/hand pain among peeling (41.5%), roasting (21.5%), and grading (20%).On the other hand, neck pain (39.7%) and knee pain (58%) were highly concentrated among shelling workers. Other hazards faced by workers in cashew processing units are blackish staining (30.5%), burns (11%), and respiratory problems (8%).
Table 3: Health hazards faced by workers in cashew processing units (n=200)

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Ergonomic assessment using RULA shows the need of further investigation and intervention in shelling, peeling and grading [Table 2]. It is also evident that the most commonly used PPE is cap and glove which is predominantly notice among shelling and grading workers, respectively [Figure 1]. An ample number of workers does not use any form of PPE irrespective of the work involved. To find the association between the nature of the job and various health issues among workers, Chi-square analysis was done [Table 3]. Burns are only noted among roasting (63.6%) and shelling (36.4%) workers (P ≤ 0.001). While eye irritation is high among peeling workers (54.5%), respiratory problems are predominantly (68.8%) noted among workers involved in roasting (P ≤ 0.001).
Figure 1: Personal protective equipment utilization among workers

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  Discussion Top


From the analysis, it is evident that workers engaged in cashew processing faces various health hazards irrespective of the work category. The higher dominance of women in cashew processing units also indicates their increased burden of handling both household and occupational duties which further increases the risk of certain health issues. Moreover, the educational status of these workers was poor across all ages. As per regulation from Director-General Factory Advice Service and Labour Institute, female workers should not be involved in the roasting process. However, the current study evident that female workers are also involved in the roasting process at some units. Although the work in every stage of the process is tedious, the income seems reasonable which may be one of the factors that influence homemakers in the villages toward this work. We noticed a significant variation in working hours among the workers. Despite uniform work timing (8 h), a portion of the sample extends their working hours to increase production, which may further increase the exposure to hazard. A previous study found that one-third of the workers skipped rest intervals and this was more prevalent among female workers who are paid on a piece-rate basis.[2],[3] Some processing units do not have any exhausting fan and this keeps the hazardous air circulating inside the unit, leading to respiratory problems in long run. At the same time, the medical and handwashing facilities were not sufficient in some processing units. The working conditions of workers are poor in traditional industry when compared to modern industry.[3]

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) states that musculoskeletal disorders account for more than half of the injuries and illnesses suffered by female workers, as compared to male workers.[8] Although most of the work in the cashew processing unit involves repetitive movement of the hand, shelling is noted to be the highly lobor intensive work, and these workers experience multiple hazards. Peeling and grading workers show high wrist and elbow pain when compared to other processes. Although low back pain ranks first among all health issues, the prevalence in the current study seems low, unlike previous studies. This may be contributed to the proper provision of sitting benches/chairs and shelling machines. On the other hand, the posture change of shelling workers from traditional squatting to standing position showed increased neck pain and knee pain. In previous studies, the Individual Risk Assessment Score of the subject during work revealed that the posture required further more investigation and changes.[1] The ergonomic assessment in the current study using the RULA scale also showed the same with moderate risk. In particular, the change from squatting shelling to machine shelling has reduced low back pain to some extent, but the overall hazard risk remains unchanged.

Chemical exposure of cashew employees includes caustic cashew sap which causes dermatitis and dry skin, toxic fumes which is the smoke coming out of the kiln which causes various respiratory diseases and poison ingestion. In some units, there is a separate section called scooping/checking where workers handle a heap of shells and nuts (byproducts of shelling) to separate and recheck for missed nuts. Since a trace amount of CSNL may retrieve in the shell even after drying, the workers at these sections are highly prone to skin disorders than that of other sections and remain unnoticed by many researchers. Cloves are not provided by the management and even in some large-scale units, the workers are provided with just powder or ashes to protect their skin which may not be sufficient protection against CSNL. During the study, it has been reported that, since the management fails to provide proper PPE particularly to scooping and checking workers, they buy for themself. Director-General Factory Advice Service and Labour Institute under schedule-XVI stated a list of procedures to be followed in the processing of cashew nut. This includes storage and use of protective clothing/equipment, washing facilities, medical facilities, and records of health examinations and tests.[9] However, the above regulations are poorly complied with in all processing units. The essential type of PPE for a specific process (like cloves for shelling and mask for roasting) is not provided appropriately. On the other hand, caps and gloves were provided to grading workers in high numbers and it is strictly supervised not in concern of the worker's health and safety but to ensure the quality of the nut exported. Many workers reported that, unlike burns, blackish staining does not create any major destruction to the skin and the workers are used to it. A part of the worker feels PPE as a reason for less output and discomfort during work. Hence, even if it is provided, remains unused by the workers in some units. Poor educational status and less awareness about occupational hazards may be a reason for the underuse of PPE among the workers in cashew processing units.


  Conclusion Top


The cashew industries in India employed different unit operations/processing methods depend on a variety of raw materials, location, technological mechanization, and availability of secured energy supply.[7] This paper reveals that workers at cashew processing units are exposed to ergonomic, physical, and chemical hazards. Although the need for further ergonomics intervention remains constant over years despite improvisation in posture, certain hazard has been reduced halfway when compared to previous studies. Prolonged work time due to piece-rate system and poor PPE utilization exacerbate the hazards the other way round. Although MSD is common among all workers, burns and respiratory issues are noted specifically among workers in roasting and peeling (small-scale units). Since these two processes were mechanized in large scale units, the hazard exposure is low.


  Recommendation Top


Tamil Nadu is one of the main sources of cashew export, hence the improvisations made should be generalized among all units irrespective of the size to reduce occupational hazard among workers. As per the current study, it is evident that many units fail to provide PPE and also to ensure the worker's health and safety. Periodic examination of the workers may be necessary to detect early changes at a time when further prevention (cease exposure) or treatment can be effective and also workers should be informed (right-to-know laws) of what they are handling, what the hazards are, and how to protect themselves.[10] Despite proper instructions and procedures, training and supervision must be provided to encourage people to work safely and responsibly.

Acknowledgement

The authors gratefully acknowledge the generous support from Prof. Geetha Veliah and the SRM Institute of Science and Technology for providing facilities and encouragement to complete the work.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

1.
Borah S. Ergonomic assessment of drudgery of women worker involved in cashew nut processing factory in Meghalaya, India. Procedia Manuf 2015;3:4665-72.  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Nelson V, Ps R, Simon S, Hashim A, Usman A, Rassia AA. Work related health problems of female workers engaged in Cashew processing Industries - A cross-sectional study from Kollam district, Kerala, southern India. Indian Journal of Community Health. 2016;28, 359-363  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
Prasad SL, Kani KM. Comparative assessment of occupational health and safety issues prevailed among cashew workers. International Journal of Scientific & Engineering Research. 2016;7:310-4  Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.
Sivanesan R. A study on socioeconomic conditions of women workers in cashew industries of. Int J Manag Res Bus Strat 2013;2:4.  Back to cited text no. 4
    
5.
Mitra PP. Employment and Social Protection of Cashew Workers in India with Special Reference to Kerala. Noida: V.V. Giri National Labour Institute; 2014.  Back to cited text no. 5
    
6.
Mohod A, Jain S, Powar AG. Cashew nut processing: Sources of environmental pollution and standards. BIOINFO Publications. 2011;1:5-11.  Back to cited text no. 6
    
7.
Kinslin D, Kumar DJ. Occupational Hazards of Cashew Workers in Kerala. International Journal of Recent Technology and Engineering(IJRTE),2019;8:103-5.[doi:10.35940/ijrte.B1016.0782S319].  Back to cited text no. 7
    
8.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Women's Safety and Health Issues at Work. DHHS (NIOSH) Publication; 2001. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2001-123/pdfs/2001-123.pdf?id=10.26616/ NIOSHPUB2001123. [Last accessed on 2020 Dec 03].  Back to cited text no. 8
    
9.
Processing of Cashew Nut. In: DGFASLI. Mumbai: Ministry of Labour, Government of India; 2019. Available from: https://dgfasli.gov.in/model-rules-part-ii/processing-cashew-nut. [Last accessed on 2020 Dec 03].  Back to cited text no. 9
    
10.
Dhami MS, Vernon H. Occupational hazards at the work place. JCCA 1985;29:141-4.  Back to cited text no. 10
    


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