Female miners at a pit in Anhui province wear masks and hats in an effort to keep dust particles at bay in this file photo.XIE ZHENGYI / FOR CHINA DAILY
BEIJING - Pneumoconiosis, or black lung, remains the top occupational disease in China, accounting for 80 percent of new cases of occupational diseases in 2009, the Ministry of Health said on Wednesday.
Migrant workers, who usually work in heavily polluting industries, have also become the largest group of victims of occupational diseases, the ministry said.
Altogether 14,495 new patients were diagnosed with pneumoconiosis last year, 748 of whom died, the ministry said.
There was an increase of 18,128 cases of occupational diseases in China last year. The three occupations with the highest rates are the coal, metal alloy and metallurgy industries, according to the report.
Combined, the three industries contributed to 57 percent of the country's new cases of occupational diseases.
From 1949 until the end of 2009, there were 722,730 cases of occupational diseases. In that period, there has been a marked tendency for workers, more than half of whom come from small- and medium-sized enterprises, to contract occupational diseases at a faster rate, with a corresponding increase in group morbidity, according to the report.
In response to the situation, both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security are stepping up their efforts to prevent and treat occupational diseases.
"In 2010, the Ministry of Health and its subsidiary institutes will cooperate with legislature departments to accelerate making the Code of Occupational Disease Prevention and try to establish a long-term prevention policy and strengthen supervision," the report said.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security also includes occupational disease prevention in its suggestions on safeguarding migrant workers' rights this year.
"One of the most serious problems threatening migrant workers' rights is their poor working conditions," Yang Zhiming, vice-minister of human resources and social security, said on Wednesday in a report to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.
"In some highly-dangerous and heavily-polluting industries, working health and safety is very problematic, with a lot of migrant workers being injured while working or suffering occupational diseases and some of them cannot be treated in time."
Yang suggested that migrant workers receive training before they work in highly-dangerous industries. He also recommended that the government increase supervision of these industries, as well as carry out special campaigns in enterprises involving dust and poisonous materials.
In addition to migrant workers being at risk of contracting occupational diseases, Yang said they experience widespread delays and even refusals of payment by their employers.
In a lot of enterprises, especially in the construction industry, the employers don't sign contracts with employees, so that they can avoid legal responsibility.
"We should supervise enterprises to ensure they sign contracts with migrant workers and practice a 'depositing salary system' in industries where delayed payments are most common," Yang said.
(China Daily 04/29/2010 page4)