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Workplace Diseases and Injuries in Spotlight

Chinese officials yesterday urged employers to take more measures to protect workers against workplace diseases and injuries.

Experts estimate that about 200 million workers face a potential danger of occupational diseases and work-related injuries.

The majority of them are farmers-turned-workers who are working in small or medium-sized firms.

One of the most serious workplace diseases on the Chinese mainland is pneumoconiosis, a lung disease that is caused by breathing in too much dust of coal, silicon, and cerement. It causes serious breathing difficulties and can be fatal.

The disease killed 966 people in the country last year, according to an official report released by the Ministry of Health yesterday.

From the early 1950s until the end of last year, 607,570 people were diagnosed with pneumoconiosis.

Among the number, 137,481 people died from the disease.

Chen Xiaohong, vice-minister of health, said the general level of prevention and control of workplace diseases is still quite low in China.

"Health authorities at various levels will do more education work in the future to raise employers' awareness that they are the first person responsible for any workplace diseases or accidents," Chen said.

He made the remark at a ceremony held by his ministry and other relevant departments under the State Council to award prizes to 56 companies which have done well in protecting workers' health.

On the Chinese mainland, more than 16 million companies are engaged in potentially dangerous sectors, such as coal mining, construction, and those that use chemicals, according to the Ministry of Health.

Although many companies, especially large foreign-invested and State-owned ones, have done well in protecting workers' health, many employees are still working in dangerous places with poor protection and without any insurance support.

At least 90 per cent of Chinese companies are small or medium-sized organizations.

Many of these companies, especially private ones based in towns and villages, do not want to spend their money strengthening workplace protection against various diseases and injuries, or buying insurance policies for their employees.

According to statistics from Chinese labour and social welfare authorities, there are about 120 million farmers-turned-workers working in Chinese cities. Less than 10 per cent of them have medical or injury insurance and many have no contracts with employers.

According to Chinese law on preventing occupational diseases, employers should establish qualified working conditions before opening factories, buy insurance policies for their workers, and provide regular health examinations for laborers.

However, according to a survey last year of 74,946 companies that use chemicals or are based in "dangerous sectors," only about 50 per cent offered health tests for workers.

(China Daily April 25, 2006)

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