High-Tech Help for Some Turkish Denim Workers


Turkish denim worker Mehmet Şah Yalçın, who died last week of occupational silicosis. Photo: Kot Kumlama İşçileri Dayanışma Komitesi.

With the recent death toll among Turkish denim sandblasting workers due to the lung disease silicosis nearing 50, one local firm has decided to abolish the practice and use a laser-based system to create the same "worn-out look" for its jeans. According to the firm's general manager, the new technology, although expensive, has helped double production capacity while sparing workers the anguish experienced by Mehmet Şah Yalçın and his family."There were mild coughs in the beginning. Then, the coughs became unbearable. I was unable to sleep at night. Doctors diagnosed me with tuberculosis.... [then] silicosis. A doctor once told me upon seeing the X-ray image of my lungs that this disease would normally come to such a point only after 30 years and asked me how it did so in my case in three years," Yalçın, who manually sandblasted denim fabric in an illegal workshop, said in one of his last interviews before dying last week at the age of 31. He was the 49th denim sandblasting worker to die of silicosis since 2008, the newspaper Today's Zaman reported.

Up To 5,000 Workers With Silicosis
According to the paper, only 500 people in Turkey have been diagnosed with silicosis, but the disease is estimated to affect up to 10 times that many. Though manual denim sandblasting has been banned in Turkey since 2009, illegal workshops proliferate, as do -- reportedly -- ongoing violations by major companies. Workers contract the disease, common to miners, by inhaling particles while spraying sand on denim -- a job they are often forced to do in closed and unventilated environments.

The same popular faded look created by sandblasting can be emulated with laser-based technology such as that recently adopted by Le Faxx, a Turkish firm based in the central province of Sivas.

"Both in legal and moral terms, the laser system is the best option for employees' health. This system creates smoke as it burns, but the well-designed ventilation system absorbs the smoke immediately to the extent that you can't even smell it," said general manager Mürsel Önder, adding that the system's increased efficiency will make it pay for itself.

Installing the laser system, however, meant bringing in a technician from Istanbul (since so few people currently know how to operate one) and shelling out 250,000 euros -- something it's hard to imagine ever being done by the people who cut corners by running illegal workshops.

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Tags: Clothing | Denim | Diseases | Turkey