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Lung disease in coal mining industry claims far more lives than accidents do

Updated: 2015-02-09 07:52
By Zheng Jinran (China Daily)

Sixty-two percent of patients with a lung disease caused by dust inhalation come from the coal mining industry, and its death toll far outnumbers those in mining accidents, highlighting a significant danger to miners' health, a report released on Friday said.

More than 720,000 workers nationwide reported their disease, pneumoconiosis, to the China Coal Miner Pneumoconiosis Prevention and Treatment Foundation. About 440,000 of those, or 62 percent, were from the mining industry. The form of the ailment prevalent among coal miners is known formally as black lung disease.

The foundation, under the leadership of the State's top work safety authority, has spent more than 113 million yuan ($18.1 million) since it was founded in 2004, and has provided assistance for the treatment of more than 125,500 pneumoconiosis patients, the report said.

But it's far from enough to cover the large group of workers suffering from the ailment.

It's estimated that there are 6 million workers with pneumoconiosis nationwide, of which 90 percent are rural residents. The number increases by 20,000 workers every year, according to a survey released by a special foundation targeted on the pneumoconiosis patients under the China Social Assistance Foundation in July.

The Ministry of Health said by the end of 2010, 22 percent of the reported 677,000 black lung disease sufferers had died.

By comparison, the death toll from mining accidents declined to 1,067 in 2013, down from about 7,000 annually 15 years ago, according to the State Administration of Work Safety.

Revisions in the law have not succeeded at helping patients get the compensation they deserve, said Huang Leping, director of the Beijing Yilian Legal Aid and Research Center of Labor, an NGO dedicated to providing free legal aid for workers.

In order to protect the interests of people with occupational diseases, China revised the prevention law, which went into effect at the end of 2011, with smoother channels for diagnosis and compensation.

"But the revised law did not work as expected, and our case load has not decreased in the past three years," Huang said.

He said the laws and regulations did not ease the difficulty for sufferers, and they were required to consume great amounts of time and energy.

In the July survey results, workers with pneumoconiosis spent about 17 months on average in lawsuits. Only 19 percent of the six million patients managed to get any compensation.

"Many of the workers found the pneumoconiosis after they quit their jobs, adding more problems and difficulties for them to get the deserved compensation," Huang said. Coals mines without insurance for workers or that don't have the resources to pay compensation are also major obstacles for sufferers.

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