During a nationwide inspection conducted between August 2003 and
March 2004, a total of 107 deaths caused by workplace-related
illnesses were reported. Most were caused by dust and poisonous
gases, including hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide.
A special working group of the State Council conducted the
inspection. The team members came from various sectors, including
health and insurance.
The inspection covered 218,000 enterprises in rural areas,
including town-level factories and small private firms. More than
half took no measures to prevent occupational diseases. More than
10 million workers were employed in the enterprises, with nearly 2
million working in high-risk jobs.
The results, released by the Ministry of Health, indicate that
China's rural workers are in dire need of health protection.
About 1 million were given physical examinations; 3,773 had
contracted some kind of work-related ailment.
Su Zhi, deputy department director of the Ministry of Health,
said that the greatest problem is that most enterprises take no
Moreover, regular health examinations, protective gear and
health insurance could go a long way toward safeguarding the lives
of the 130 million farmers--10 percent of the country's
population--who work in urban areas, he said.
Often without insurance, workers who fall ill have difficulty
"In the near future, if enterprises don't help workers
participate in the insurance system, they will be asked to pay for
the workers' losses themselves," Su said.
In the past, it was very difficult for health authorities to
tackle the issue of occupational illness. The situation looks set
to change now, with the State Council directing various
departments--including health, public security, labor and
insurance--to work together on the issue.
At the end of 2003, there were about 450,000 pneumoconiosis
patients in China. Also known as black lung disease, there is no
treatment and in its disabling complicated form, progressive
massive fibrosis, it may cause death.
Every year, more than 15,000 such lung disease patients are
added to the list.
During the inspection, 117 people responsible for conditions at
66 hazardous workplaces were sent to court facing criminal
Rapid industrialization over the past two decades has spawned
more than 20 million township businesses. However, 60 percent of
these businesses have only minimal occupational safety measures in
place, according to a survey conducted by the Health Ministry last
(China Daily May 18, 2004)