Occupational disease takes huge tolls on China

Occupational disease, a health problem caused by exposure to workplace health hazards, is taking enormous tolls, both human and economic, on China, the China Daily said on Saturday.

Every year, the direct economic loss caused by occupational disease or work-related injuries amounts to 100 billion yuan (12 billion US dollars), while the indirect loss stands at about 200 billion yuan (24 billion US dollars), Wang Dexue, vice minister of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), was quoted as saying.

The number of patients suffering pneumoconiosis, a disease of the lungs caused by long exposure to mineral or metallic dust, has alone reached 580,000, of which 140,000 have already died since China established an occupational disease reporting system in the 1950s.

Currently, 200 million Chinese people are at risk of occupational disease, most work in small-town industrial enterprises, the daily said.

Work-related illness has become a grave public health issue and social problem. Figuring out how to deal with it is of great urgency.

The incomplete prevention and treatment mechanism is to blame, experts say.

"The root problem with rampant occupational disease is our poor prevention mechanism," Wang Yi, spokesman of SAWS, China's top safety watchdog, was quoted as saying by China Business News.

China, therefore, should redouble efforts to improve its patchy occupational disease prevention mechanism, which, Wang said, is now on the government's agenda.

Only 20 percent of workplaces that are prone to occupational disease have taken preventative measures, experts estimate.

During the planned-economy period, the staving off of occupational disease was taken on almost completely by the government, which mainly targeted workers in State-owned mines and manufacturing or processing industries.

As the country began to move towards a market economy in the early 1980s, the government's role 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 and some joint ventures, where workplace accidents happen frequently.

The many fatal mine accidents in recent years, most of which have happened in small mines, are a solid testament to that fact, said the paper.

Though China began to tackle the problem of occupational disease in the 1950s, it was conducted in an administrative manner until the late 1980s, when the Management Regulation on Silicosis, the first such regulation concerning occupational disease, was issued in 1989, forcing the management of occupational disease onto a legal track.

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

Therefore, the government should step up efforts to ensure that laws and regulations concerning occupational disease are enforced.

"If the law on occupational disease were followed to the letter, many work-related tragedies would be avoided," Wang Yaozu, a veteran occupational disease prevention expert, was quoted by Oriental Outlook Weekly as saying.

Source: Xinhua

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