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[Health] Job-related illnesses a threat
Latest Updated by 2007-05-09 11:49:31

With the country's economy rocketing ahead, work-related illnesses continue to claim lives and cost the State a fortune, posing a threat to social harmony and stability.

Since the authorities set up a system for reporting work-related illnesses in the 1950s, some 670,000 cases of diseases attributable to workplace hazards have been reported, statistics from the Ministry of Health (MOH) show.

Among them, pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, which is caused by long-term exposure to mineral or metallic dust, affected at least 610,000 people, of which 140,000 have died.

"More than a public health hazard, the grim situation of occupational diseases also poses a threat to China's overall development and social harmony," said Vice-Minister of Health Jiang Zuojun.

At the moment, some 200 million Chinese, particularly migrant workers, are at risk of contracting occupational diseases. Most of those people work for medium and small-sized industrial enterprises, according to the MOH.

According to official data, economic losses caused by occupational diseases and workplace injuries amount to 300 billion yuan ($39 billion), every year, representing about 1/60 of the GDP.

Beyond the human and financial costs, such illnesses also make the country less competitive in the international arena, said Su Zhi, deputy director of the bureau of health supervision, which is affiliated to the MOH.

"Some foreign countries regularly find fault with China's labor conditions, including work-related illnesses, whenever a trade dispute occurs," said Su, adding that there were concerns of a potential labor shortage by 2015.

Faced with the growing frequency of health problems within the working population and a rapidly aging society, the economy could soon be plagued by unsustainable labor resources.

Despite efforts to reverse the situation, the country's ability to control and prevent occupational diseases still lags far behind that of many other countries, said Li Tao, director of the national institute of occupational health and poison control, which is under the center for disease control.

"In the uphill battle against work-related diseases, the government should pay more attention to prevention based on international experiences that have proved effective," Li said.

He also said the government should consider shouldering the medical fees of people who have fallen sick because of their work. At present, labor insurance or employers cover the fees, but only if a contract is signed beforehand.

"It occasionally happens that migrant laborers who do not have contracts and who toil hard for meager payment are left hanging by cash-thirsty bosses. Nobody is willing to foot their medical bills, leaving them in poverty, " Li said.

The law on occupational disease prevention took effect in May 2002. It was hailed by many experts as a comprehensive approach to dealing with work-related illnesses, but not many people have heard of it.

Editor: Wing

By:Shan Juan Source:China Daily Website
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