A senior health official has warned that occupational illnesses and injuries are costing China 100 billion yuan (US$12.5 billion) in direct losses every year.
And indirect costs could double the figure to US$25 billion, said Li Tao, head of the Occupational Health and Poisons Control Institute under China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The increasing incidence of occupational diseases had become a serious public health issue affecting social stability.
Li called for greater public awareness of the health risks migrant workers face and improved monitoring of small and medium-sized enterprises.
Some local governments had long ignored the prevention and control of occupational diseases while focusing on economic growth and this resulted in poor supervision and law enforcement, he said.
"Many projects were launched without an assessment of their impact on occupational health and approval criteria were lowered in order to attract investment," Li said.
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, Li said. Scientific research and education on occupational health at universities were declining as fewer scholars were interested in the subject.
These factors had led to a shortage of occupational health professionals and great disparities in care between the east and west, big and small cities, urban and rural regions, large and small enterprises and fixed and migrant employees, Li explained.
Twenty-six in-service provincial occupational healthcare institutes provided services to 218,000 enterprises dealing with toxic and harmful goods during production. On average each institute dealt with 8,385 enterprises and every occupational health professional served 4,713 workers.
Employees in low-profit and township enterprises had no access to occupational healthcare and rural workers in urban cities faced high risks of occupational illness due to their high mobility, Li said.
There are an estimated 120 million migrant workers in China and another 80 million people work in rural enterprises, according to a recent report by the State Council.
(Xinhua News Agency July 31, 2006)