600,000 fall victim to workplace illnesses
Josephine Ma in Beijing
Small factories, mines and quarries lack basic health protection, says official
More than 600,000 mainland workers suffer from chronic vocational diseases, with a further 20,000 getting sick at work every year, officials said yesterday.
Wang Dexue, deputy director of State Administration of Work Safety, said: 'When people die at work, their death will be investigated quickly and promptly and [the parties responsible] often face heavy punishment.
'But vocational diseases - like people suffering from poisoning - can kill people slowly and not a lot of people are aware of that.'
Mr Wang said it was most serious in small factories, mines and quarries where workers were denied the most basic protection.
The most common vocational disease in northern China is pneumoconiosis - a lung disease caused by breathing in dust or mineral particles. In southern China, many workers suffer from workplace poisoning from handling toxic materials. Analysts say the actual number of vocational diseases is likely far higher than official statistics because many workers do not know they are sick.
Mr Wang said a government survey had begun in Liaoning and Shanxi to find out how many people had pneumoconiosis and the number of workers disabled in accidents. The survey would take six months.
Meanwhile, he said industrial and road accidents remained serious in the first half of this year.
Of 63,735 people killed in accidents in the first six months, 49,528 lost their lives in road accidents. In the same period, the number of deaths in coal mines fell 12.4 per cent to 2,644. Coal mining is often described as the most hazardous industry on the mainland.
'Work safety concerns remain serious,' Mr Wang said. 'The frequent occurrence of major accidents has not been checked.'