A national law on occupational disease prevention and control will take effect on May 1 and is expected to protect worker's health rights better.
The law requires all employers in China to build qualified occupational health facilities. Otherwise, they could be fined or shut down.
Those who cause acute workplace poisonings will be punished according to the law, said Su Zhi, vice-director of the Department of Law and Supervision of the Ministry of Health and the law's co-author.
As China's various industries continue to prosper in recent years, the number of reported poisonings has grown, especially among joint ventures and small- and medium-sized township firms where many farmers-turned-workers are employed.
Statistics indicate about 500,000 mines and factories have occupational dangers in China. Around 25 million workers are in regular contact with such dangers as dust and poisonous materials.
Patients suffering from neumoconiosis, or silicosis, in China total 558,000; deaths add up to 133,000; and 600,000 people are suspected of having pneumoconiosis.
To prevent victims of occupational hazards from being abandoned by their employers, the law requires all firms to provide insurance in the event of a workplace accident.
However, many township firms, most of which are private, have not built any occupational health facilities, and their farmers-turned workers do not have any social insurance.
So it will be hard for China to better enforce the law, analysts said.
In addition, many private firms fire workers who were poisoned and hire new people to avoid paying for the original workers' injuries. To stop this criminal activity, the ministry is trying to create a health record for all laborers.
Firms must regularly conduct health examination with the help of legal occupational disease control centers.
The records will follow the workers from job to job so that when a worker is found poisoned, health administrators can trace where and when it occurred.
But for the nearly 80 million rural laborers who move across the country from job to job, such documentation is arduous, officials said.
(China Daily March 29, 2002)