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Miners Facing Chronic Health Threat
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Often the victims of disasters at work, miners must also watch out for a more insidious potential killer, a workplace safety expert warned yesterday.

He Guojia, vice president of the Information Institute of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), said that by 2010, pneumoconiosis, a lung disease caused by the excessive inhalation of mining dust, could become a serious social problem if left unchecked.

Statistics from the Ministry of Health said that by 2005, more than 600,000 cases of pneumoconiosis had been reported in China, almost as many as the rest of the world combined.

Of those, more than 140,000 people died, putting the death rate at higher than 20 percent.

Last year, some 4,700 workers were killed in coal mining accidents. It is estimated that pneumoconiosis kills about 6,000 to 8,000 every year.

Speaking at a workshop to mark the "World Day for Safety and Health at Work," which falls on today, He Guojia said: "This 'white injury' (pneumoconiosis) sheds no blood, but it is more deadly than 'red injuries' (accidents) that do."

In 2005, the disease affected more than 12,000 miners. However, not all workers take regular physical checks, so the true figure is likely to be much higher, He suggested.

"The average check rate for miners nationwide is just 50 percent," He said, "and they hardly ever have them in rural areas."

Rural migrant workers who struggle to eke out a living by toiling at the mines are the people most at risk, he said.

"Many migrant workers are uninformed about healthcare, so when they fall ill they don't get proper treatment," He said.

"Sometimes, even though they know the dangers, they stay in the mines because they have to make a living," He said.

"And often, they cannot claim compensation or money for treatment because they don't have an employment contract."

(China Daily April 28, 2007)

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