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New Law to Protect Workers
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A new law protecting workers from occupational health hazards was passed last week and will take effect starting May 1, 2002.

Occupational diseases, usually caused by industrial dust, radioactive matter and toxic chemicals in work sites, are harming the health of more and more workers, according to recent statistics from the Ministry of Health.

"The increase mainly comes from joint ventures and township enterprises," said Zhou Anshou, an occupational disease expert.

Zhou said some overseas investors omit necessary preventive safety measures when building workshops on the mainland to cut production costs and do not inform their workers of the possible dangers to their health.

He said mainland laborers, who often are not equipped with proper safety gear, are exposed to toxic chemicals.

A ministry survey found that the amount of people suffering acute poisoning in joint ventures in South China's Guangdong Province last year increased by 43.8 per cent from 1999.

Small-scale township enterprises which usually operate at low technical levels are putting their employees at risk too.

A ministry survey conducted in the 1990s showed that 60 per cent of township enterprises did not take any preventive measures, and nearly 30 per cent of their workers were exposed to industrial dust and toxic materials.

Workers in some shoe factories handle glue containing Benzene, which can cause leukemia, without wearing gloves, and those in cement factories only wear gauze masks to protect against dust that may cause pneumoconiosis, the survey discovered.

Also, manuals and warning signs written in Chinese often do not accompany the hazardous facilities and raw materials that many of these enterprises import.

"If we do not take effective measures, large numbers of occupational disease patients will appear in the next 10 years and may cause social problems," said Zhou.

The new law states that factories must take necessary preventive safety measures. Violators will be punished and even shut down according to the law, said Zhao Tonggang, an official with the ministry. "Preventive measures must be emphasized because many occupational diseases are hard to cure but can be prevented," he said.

(China Daily November 3, 2001)

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