MAC: Mines and Communities

Occupational illnesses and injuries cost China 100 billion yuan per year, official warns

Published by MAC on 2006-07-15

Occupational illnesses and injuries cost China 100 billion yuan per year, official warns

The cost of occupational illnesses and work-related injuries has soared to 100 billion yuan (US$12.5 billion) in direct losses every year, underscoring the risk to workers' health in modern China, a senior health official warned recently.

The indirect costs could be double that the figure, reaching 200 billion yuan (US$25 billion), said Li Tao, head of the Occupational Health and Poisons Control Institute under China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The official noted that some local governments had long ignored the prevention and control of occupational diseases, focusing only on economic growth and resulting in poor supervision and law enforcement. "Many projects were launched without an assessment of their impact on occupational health, and approval criteria were lowered to attract investment," he added. More than 30 industries were involved in occupational disease control. However, many enterprises, especially small and medium-sized firms, had few or no measures to protect workers' health.

Scientific research and education of occupational health in universities was getting weak and few scholars were interested in the subject. Most occupational healthcare institutes were located in big cities in the eastern regions.

These factors had led to a shortage of occupational health professionals and great disparities in care between the eastern and western areas of the country, between large and small cities, urban and rural regions, large and small enterprises, and resident and migrant employees, Li said. Twenty-six in-service provincial occupational healthcare institutes provided services to 218,000 enterprises with toxic and harmful production issues. On average, every institute dealt with 8,385 enterprises and every occupational health professional served 4,713 workers, according to government statistics.

There are about 120 million rural migrant workers in urban areas and the workforce in rural enterprises amounts to 80 million. By the end of 2005, China recorded 665,043 cases of occupational illness, including 606,891 cases of pneumoconiosis, a chronic disease of the lungs resulting from long-term inhalation of dust and primarily affecting miners, sand blasters, metal grinders and gemstone cutting workers.

Nearly 10,000 new cases of pneumoconiosis have emerged each year. On average, each pneumoconiosis patient suffered an annual financial loss of 34,100 yuan (US$4,300), Li said. "Based on the current number of pneumoconiosis patients in China, which is 440,000, the annual direct economic loss caused by the illness would exceed 14 billion yuan, and with new cases, it's increasing by 600 million yuan each year," he said.

According to Vice Minister of Health Chen Xiaohong, workers contracting pneumoconiosis are getting younger, with the average age of 40 for the onset of the disease. So far the youngest patient was just 20 years old in 2005. The shortest period between first contact with dust and showing symptoms of the disease was less than three months. Most occupational illness patients, including pneumoconiosis victims, have been rural and migrant workers in coal mines, township enterprises or other work environments with harmful and toxic substances.

Sources: Xinhua News Agency (16 July 2006), Workers' Daily (16 July 2006) China Labour Bulletin 18 July 2006

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