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Diseases at Work Haunt Migrant Workers

Migrant workers are at the most threat of contracting occupational diseases, health chiefs claim.

According to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Health, around 90 percent of the patients suffering from diseases relating to the workplace are migrant workers.

Officials from the State Administration of Work Safety said at a recent seminar the reason for the high figure was because of their poor working conditions.

The authority added that the total number of Chinese suffering from work-related accidents is on the rise every year, particularly among younger workers.

About 200 million Chinese people are believed to be at risk of contracting occupational diseases, and most work in small-town industrial enterprises.

Qin Nainian, a farmer of Lixing Village in Mashan County of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, had to quit his job because of "black lung disease," or pneumoconiosis, after nine years of working in a gold mine in south China's Hainan Province.

"I often feel acute pain in my chest and can't perform any hard physical work," Qin was quoted by the Workers Daily as saying.

Qin's illness was caused by dust inhaled in underground mines and is the severest occupational disease among miners. People with the disease suffer from acute pains in the chest, a bad cough and often come down with colds. The worst cases normally die of respiratory failure.

Many of Qin's fellow villagers have similar conditions as they worked together to try to make their fortunes from the mines, only to end up suffering with diseases that they cannot afford to treat.

The number of patients suffering pneumoconiosis stands at 580,000, of which 140,000 have already died since China established an occupational disease reporting system in the 1950s, according to official statistics.

As the country began to move towards a market economy in the early 1980s, the government's role in ensuring workplace safety was gradually transferred to enterprises.

But many of them have lowered input into worker safety in order to reduce operating costs.

The problem is more acute in private companies, where workplace accidents happen frequently.

But many enterprises have not abided by the law on occupational disease prevention, which is considered to be a major factor behind China's grave situation.

Experts say an incomplete prevention and treatment mechanism for diseases is to blame.

All of society needed to be involved in the prevention and treatment of occupational diseases, said Ge Xianmin, a veteran occupational disease prevention expert, who added the government should also play a major role.

As part of its efforts to decrease work-related diseases, the General Administration of Work Safety is working to draw up related regulations.

(China Daily February 18, 2006)

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