Workload and nutritional needs for works in textileand garment, leather and footwear sectors in Vietnam

ILO’s research reports showed that meals for worker pay an important role, firstly for their own health then for the businesses and countries.

Food at work is considered as an important issue which needs to be paid attention strictly in ILO’s Decent Work Agent. It is not only about the nutrition and food safety merely, it also impacts other conditions such as wage and income; working time and breaks (too short breaks for meals between shifts, shift work, etc.), infrastructure at workplace and worker’s health (may be affected by the quality of meals, chemicals at work place and other hazardous factors, etc.).

Worldwide, big businesses have continuously tried to get some progresses for low cost meals for example negotiating with food providers for safer and better foods or providing better dining room to make workers feel more comfortable. Meanwhile, small businesses may have many options with lower spending, depending on their own capacities and conditions. By any means, a meal with safe, clean and nourishing foods and at reasonable price is always in the first place. Beside the consideration of quality and portion, generally in some countries the suitable time for worker’s meals has been paid much attention.

In Vietnam, the nutrition and food safety assessment for shift meals is not a simple issue because of the diversity of shift meals, regional characteristics, supply capacity of business (depend on the financial ability). Besides, research activity requires multidisciplinary participation of medical, nutrition and toxic environment experts and managers, etc.

For the target of “protecting health and life of workers, protecting and developing human resources”, the Vietnam National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (VNNIOSH) has implemented a state level independent research project: “Assessing workload, nutritional needs, portion and establishing a set of criteria for nutrition and food safety of shift meals for workers in some sectors”. The project has been implemented in order to assess workload, nutritional needs and issues related to nutrition and to establish a set of criteria for nutrition for workers who are working at 48 textile and garment, leather and footwear companies.

Methods applied to assess workload and nutritional health include calculating working time and analyzing working characteristics; assessing lunch by qualitative methods (interview) and quantitative methods; checking health and performing some laboratory tests.

Research results of workload, health, nutritional needs and nutritional quality of meals in textile and garment, leather and footwear sectors show that:

- Working environment has many harmful factors such as heat, lighting, dust, noise, toxic gases (especially in textile and dyeing facilities). Besides, monotonous nature of work, repeated motions, restrictive postures (prolonged and frequent sitting or standing) that affect workers’ health and psychophysiology, then make them suffered from occupational and work-related diseases.

- The burden of physical strength in both sectors of textile and garment, leather and footwear are at levels of heavy and very heavy respectively. The burden of stress is at levels of high to very high. Heavy works consuming lots of calories and mainly from groups of cotton arrangement, yarn machine operation, joining yarn, cleaning pipe thread (at textile facilities); cutting, ironing, finishing, etc. (at garment facilities); cutting-chopping shoe models, soles cutting and pressing, sewing details, etc. (at leather and footwear facilities). Those are all heavy works that need to have good physical conditions and related to hazardous factors such as heat, lighting, dust, noise, toxic gases, etc.

- The energy consumption of worker changes according to labor intensity, work hours, the mechanization and automation of production process. Proper nutrition for workers requires: (i) satisfying energy needs according to each kind of labor; (ii) sufficiently satisfying nutrition needs and (iii) applying healthy dietary. Research results have shown that the energy consumption in both sectors is at average levels, accordingly 1087 ± 323 kcal/8h for textile and garment sector and 990  ± 320 kcal/8h for leather and footwear sector, and appear the difference in statistics (p < 0.05) between the two sectors and among working groups in each sector.

- Assessing results of actual shift meals for workers at the two sectors have not yet met the minimum nutritional needs, the nutrition components have not yet corresponding especially for vitamins and micronutrients. The average portion for worker (677  ± 218 kcal ) in both sectors has not yet satisfied the actual energy needs for shift meals of worker (about 875  ± 172 kcal).

- The percentage of workers suffering from diseases related to nutrition is quite high: chronic energy deficiency (19.5%); blood deficiency (17.3%), low serum ferritin index (15.7%) in which 34.4% of storage iron exhaustion; low blood protein (9.3%); high blood sugar level (7.9%); metabolic disease (29.1% of low blood cholesterol and 20.3% of high blood cholesterol) showed the relation to nutritional imbalance.

- The quality of kitchen environment is limited: 68.7% violates sanitation standards for bacteriology; 77.8% of total number of fungi and 79.5% of aerobic bacteria exceed the allowable standards; 18.8% of shift meals providers affected by ambient pollution; only 19.6% of the kitchens have sufficient equipment for assessing the safe quality of products and the quality of foods; approximately  95% of facilities, employers and employees working in those kitchens provided training and health checking (with certifications); the numbers of food processing facilities ensure the principle of one direction in both sectors acquired 55.6%.

Basing on the survey results, 36 menus and testing assessments have been established by VNNIOSH. The testing results shows the menus are feasible, easy to apply and satisfy minimum energy requirement, the average weight of workers increased (about 0.63kg); the percentage of workers have chronic energy deficiency reduces  about 3% and of blood deficiency reduces about 10%. Besides, VNNIOSH has proposed some solutions to improve working conditions, set of criteria on nutritional health and set of criteria on food safety and hygiene in which the needs for energy recommendation of shift meals for workers of textile & garment, leather & footwear sectors also mentioned.