Alarmed by the rising number of workers with occupational diseases and work-related injuries, the Government is to introduce new industry regulations in the new year. Safety and health protection on the mainland lags behind economic development, according to Xinhua. Work-related accidents and incidents of occupational disease have been increasing at an alarming rate. More than 500,000 factories and mines across the country are deemed health hazards and 25 million people have been exposed to industrial dust, noise, radioactive matter and toxic chemicals at work, Xinhua said. The issue has become a concern for Beijing. China estimates economic losses caused by work accidents and occupational diseases cost the Government billions of yuan. Guangdong has one of the highest incidences of occupational diseases, according to Huang Hanlin, deputy director of Guangdong Occupational Disease Prevention and Treatment Centre. The number of people suffering acute poisoning in joint ventures in Guangdong last year increased by 43.8 per cent from 1999, he said. In May last year, 67 workers at a Nanhai shoe factory contracted leukaemia by handling glue containing benzene without wearing gloves. In September this year, 26 female workers were poisoned after working with toxic chemicals in a Japanese-financed factory in Shenzhen. The girls and women, after working for more than six months, had difficulty walking and climbing stairs. In Foshan, one of the country's largest industrial ceramic centres, the lung disease pneumoconiosis is common, as workers do not wear masks that protect against dust. Most of the incidents occur in small and medium-sized township enterprises where employers are unwilling to spend money on disease-prevention facilities and the workers are desperate to make a living at any cost. The new industry regulations will be enforced from January 1. Meanwhile, the first national law protecting workers from occupational health hazards will take effect on May 1. According to the law, employers who cause poisoning accidents will be punished and ordered to pay compensation to the victims. Staff can refuse to work when preventative measures are not provided. Those who become ill should be treated by employers and provided with social insurance and benefits. The law is expected to provide legal grounds for better working conditions.