A new regulation was enforced Sunday to help improve the health of employees working with poisonous and dangerous materials.
The regulation, issued by the State Council, is expected to reduce the increasing number of diseases brought about by poisonous materials in the workplace.
Officials from the Ministry of Health noted that China's occupational diseases have become very "serious" and the issue of this new regulation has provided workers with a new legal weapon to protect their own rights.
Statistics from the ministry show that 756 acute poisoning cases were reported in 2001, 110 of which died.
Around 1,166 cases of chronic poisoning cases were registered in the country at the same time, with millions of employees working with poor protection measures.
Last year, the ministry received 13,218 reports of cases involving various occupational diseases, which represents a rise of 13 percent over the figure for 2000.
Chronic poisoning caused by benzene has become quite severe, especially in firms making bags, toys, and shoes made with leather.
Most of the poisoning accidents took place in small and medium-sized firms and in particular private firms.
A lack of awareness with regards to protection as well as a lack of investment in this area is the "chief culprit" of the rising number of poisoning cases.
The new regulation will not only force employers to improve working conditions, but will also give workers more legal rights to prevent occupational diseases and enable them to receive compensation.
Workers have the right to have complete understanding of the dangers of their work and any employers found violating these rights will be severely punished, the regulation states.
Employers are being asked to improve safety conditions and to provide the necessary equipment to ensure the safety of their workers.
The regulation also stipulates that health officials in charge of supervising safety in workplace face criminal charges if any worker suffers ill health due to negligence on the part of the officer.
Employers who have suffered from poisoning at work have the right to seek compensation from insurance companies and from employers.
Under the new rule, employers will no longer be able to sack workers who have been exposed to poisonous substances before passing health examinations.
Factories are forbidden to use poisonous materials which do not comply with legal standards. Those that do so risk of close-down and being fined between 50,000 to 300,000 yuan (US$6,000-36,000), or face criminal charges.
(People's Daily May 20, 2002)