Brick Kiln Workers Occupational Health and Safety

Project Vision

– that all workers may have a safe work place and return home healthy every day

Brick Kiln Project areas

A few of the countries where we have begun projects


Brick workers and their families live in on-site housing at the brick kilns, and may be at higher risk for non-occupational exposure to fine particulate air pollution and respiratory disease.


PM2.5 concentrations were three to four times higher than the Bangladesh and World Health Organization (WHO) standards, with an increasing trend between PM2.5 concentration and the number of brick kilns.


Steve Verpaele, a WHWB member from Belgium, has conducted personal air sampling for respirable crystalline silica at a brick works and a pottery manufacturing facility near Cairo.

Brick Kiln Workers

An estimated 25 million men, women and children (approximately 20% of the workforce is under 18 years) work in the brick industry. And this number continues to rise in response to the construction boom in the rapidly growing cities of South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and South America. Due to its low threshold for entry, many of these workers and their families are some of the most vulnerable and marginalized in society – marginalized economically because they are poor and have few if any other options; marginalized socially in that many are ethnic minorities or migrants from other areas, or who have been displaced by conflict or environmental disaster.  Poverty levels are high among brick workers and debt bondage is common.
From the standpoint of occupational health and safety, brickmaking is rife with hazards to physical health. These include: carrying and hauling heavy loads, heat stress, toxic chemicals from the fuels used to fire the kilns, and high levels of smoke, fumes and dusts. The latter may contain respirable crystalline silica (RCS) which not only contributes to potentially fatal silicosis but also other lung diseases including tuberculosis. In addition, there are also hazards to mental and emotional health, such as intimidation, abuse, and stress due to work insecurity, low pay, and generally poor working conditions. Risk of disease is exacerbated by living conditions which are often cramped, unhealthy and poorly ventilated. The health impacts associated with these hazards and conditions can be severe. 

On a larger scale, brick kilns are notorious for contributing to environmental pollution and reduced air quality to the extent that the health of the general population in the areas where they are located is affected.

Projects of the Brick Kiln Working Group

The WHWB Brick Kiln Working Group is an international group of researchers, safety specialists and health professionals who work together to address occupational health and safety hazards in brick plants. Members have provided training to local colleagues primarily in the developing world, assisted them in evaluating silica exposures, conducted research to document the extent and nature of hazards and health impacts, and contributed recommendations for policy and practical solutions (one such example is a best practice standard for use by brick kiln operators in Nepal). Members provide direct assistance in-country (e.g. in Bangladesh, Egypt, Nepal, Pakistan, and Tanzania) as well as presenting conference papers and producing materials with potentially global impact.

Representative Brick Kiln Committee Member Publications

  1. Steven M. Thygerson, J. D. Beard, Marion J. House, Rilee L. Smith, Hunter C. Burbidge, Kathryn N. Andrus, Frank X. Weber, Ryan Chartier and James D. Johnston. Air-Quality Assessment of On-Site Brick-Kiln Worker Housing in Bhaktapur, Nepal: Chemical Speciation of Indoor and Outdoor PM2.5 Pollution Int J Environ Res Public Health . 2019 Oct 25;16(21):4114. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16214114
  2. Shazia Pervaiz, Muhammad Ameer Nawaz Akram, Filza Zafar Khan, Kanwal Javid, and Younis Zahid. Brick Sector and Air Quality: An Integrated Assessment towards 2020 Challenge of Environment Development Environment and Natural Resources Journal 2021; 19(2): 153164
  3. Sangeet Nepal, Parth Sarathi Mahapatra, Sagar Adhikari, Sujan Shrestha, Prakash Sharma, Kundan Lal Shrestha, Bidya Banmali Pradhan and Siva Praveen Puppala. A Comparative Study of Stack Emissions from Straight-Line and Zigzag Brick Kilns in Nepal. DOI:10.3390/atmos10030107
  4. Abdullah Al Nayeem1, Md. Sahadat Hossain, Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder1, William S. Carter. Spatiotemporal Variation of Brick Kilns and it’s relation to Ground-level PM2.5 through MODIS Image at Dhaka District, Bangladesh. Int. J. of Environmental Pollution & Environmental Modelling, Vol. 2( 5): 277-284 (2019).
  5. Sanjel, S., Khanal, S.N., Thygerson, S.M., Carter, W.S., Johnston, J.D., Joshi, S.K.  Respiratory symptoms and illnesses related to concentrations of airborne particulate matter among brick kiln workers in Kathmandu valley, Nepal. Annals of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 29 (9). DOI : 10.1186/s40557-017-0165-0. 2017.
  6. Thygerson, S.M., Sanjel, S., Johnson, S.M. Occupational and environmental health hazard in the brick manufacturing industry in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Occupational Medicine and Health Affairs, 4: 248. doi:10. 4172/2329-6879.1000248. 2016.
  7. Sanjel, S., Khanal, S.N., Thygerson, S.M., Joshi, S.K. Environmental and occupational pollutants and their effects on health among brick kiln workers. Open Journal of Safety Science and Technology, 6: 81-98. doi:10.4236/ojsst.2016.64008. 2016.
  8. Sanjel, S., Khanal, S.N., Thygerson, S.M., Khanal, K., Pun, Z, Tamang, S., Joshi, S.K. Airborne particulate matter and health conditions in brick kiln workers in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Kathmandu University Medical Journal (KUMJ), 54. 2016.

Related ILO Publications