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China Faces Severe Challenge from Occupational Diseases

China is facing a severe challenge by the high incidence of occupational diseases, said Vice Health Minister Ma Xiaowei in Beijing on Thursday at a national meeting.

The country has seen a rise in occupational diseases caused by illegal and unsafe production, he said.

Last year, China penalized more than 20,000 companies and institutions and banned another 73 from production. It was ruled that their production may cause occupational diseases or generate radioactive pollution.

"We checked about 120,000 mining companies, pharmaceutical and pesticide manufacturers, nuclear infrastructure and radioactivity treatment institutions last year," Ma said.

Even though China published an occupational diseases prevention law in 2002, many firms, which are often located in small towns, are still turning a blind eye to the health and safety of their workers.

"We should take tough measures to curb occupational diseases, especially to protect migrant workers who are still employed under poor working conditions," Ma said.

Last year, China issued a set of regulations to safeguard the health of employees exposed to radioactivity. It also made and revised 47 occupational disease regulations and enhanced supervision and risk evaluation, according to the official.

He stressed China would increase its financial investment in occupational disease prevention and treatment, strengthen the supervision network and improve the reporting of occupational disease cases this year.

"The earlier the cases are reported, the better the opportunity to find a prevention and a cure."

Ma revealed China was drawing up an eight-year national plan on occupational disease prevention and treatment.

Last year, the situation was described as "grim" by the ministry, which predicted the number of domestic workers suffering occupational diseases would continue to increase over the next 10 to 15 years.

(Xinhua News Agency March 28, 2008)

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