Eight selected workers from different garment factories around Cambodia had their first meeting at the ILO-Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) office on Sunday 27 May. This was an introductory orientation for these “Experts by Experience” who are preparing for the upcoming training on effective public speaking, life skills, and the garment industry in general. The training will last for four consecutive Sunday mornings, beginning on 17 June.
Ms. Jill Tucker, Chief Technical Advisor for ILO-Better Factories Cambodia, applauded the commitment of the workers participating in the training, stating “together we can do something to prevent such group fainting”.
“These selected workers have first-hand experience in the garment industry for years, and a few of them even experienced in group fainting. It’s important that they share these experiences with other workers in order to stop the fainting,” said Ms. Tucker.
Ms. Soun Sophan is a garment worker who fainted while working at a factory. The paint fumes have been shown to be the cause of this particular fainting incident. However, she believes that the other workers who started feeling fatigue and fell unconscious was a result of panic and fear when they heard that some other workers had collapsed.
“Once in the morning while I was working, I felt uneasy and later fatigue when there was a strong odor. Suddenly I saw other people nearby me starting to fall down. I rushed to help them but also lost conscious. I was sent to a hospital for medical treatment,” explained Ms. Sophan.
Ms. Hun Rorn is another worker who fainted twice. She blames the smell of paint, but acknowledges that her personal health and fear was another factor that contributed to her fainting on the second day.
“I resumed my work the next day after recovering from fainting on the previous day. Once I stepped into the factory, I felt scared and panicked. I murmured that I might fall down again. When I heard that other workers felt unwell, I began losing conscious again,” said Ms. Rorn.
These group fainting incidents are a form of Mass Psychogenic Illness (MPI), which occurs when a few people in a cohesive group show symptoms of illness (in this case of fainting), causing other people nearby to start exhibiting similar symptoms like passing out due to shock and fear.
The training for the ILO-BFC’s Experts by Experience will enable them to share the garment worker experience, especially as related to the fainting issue, through talking to workers, a poster campaign, and media engagement. Finally, three of the experts will be selected to take part in the Better Factories Cambodia’s Buyers’ Forum which will be held in Vietnam in October 2012.
The three selected workers will speak with key garment industry stakeholders including representatives from international brands, factory employers, unions, and other relevant organizations.
“This is the first time that ILO-Better Factories Cambodia has invited workers to join such a forum. I feel that this is the great opportunity for the workers to voice their concerns and realities, especially with regard to the fainting issue,” said Ms. Tucker.
The Experts by Experience is one of the anti-fainting campaign activities initiated by the ILO-Better Factories Cambodia programme in order to prevent or minimize fainting incidents. Other initiatives include the Cambodian Television Network comedy show on fainting issues, a workers’ calendar with monthly health and safety tips, and the One Change campaign. These initiatives are supported by the buyers, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), and the factories.