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Commentary: Health of workers must be priority
( 2003-11-18 13:40) (China Daily HK Edition)

As the economy expands, not everything is as rosy as the burgeoning gross domestic product and trade volume.

Occupational disease is one of the externalities that comes from our still immature market economy.

Statistics show that 14,821 cases of occupational disease were reported nationwide last year. That's a 12.2 per cent increase over 2001. And most of the cases concerned pneumoconiosis, a potentially fatal lung disease caused by breathing in dust and powder.

In 94 pneumoconiosis outbreaks in South China's Guangdong Province last year, 141 workers died.

In the past when people's awareness of the disease was not so acute, some factories failed to fully conform with the safety production standards.

More cases, however, seem to have emerged in recent years, especially in South China's prosperous manufacturing bases, where factories, large and small, mushroom year by year. Many industrial workers became victims.

Fortunately, legislators have noticed the problem. A string of laws and regulations have been enacted, with the latest, the Law of Occupational Disease Prevention, taking effect last May.

By explicitly stipulating the liability and punishment of violators, those laws and regulations play a role in stemming the health-damaging disease.

The force of legislation, however, is often discounted before it is fully enforced.

Reports are not rare in recent years concerning victims' failure to get timely compensation after being diagnosed with occupational disease. In some cases, they cannot even be hospitalized for lack of money.

Industrial workers at new factories are often migrant farmers, who are a disadvantaged group. Their interests should get special attention from the policy-makers.

The issue of farmers' slow income growth and delayed payments to farmers-turned-workers has been in the spotlight in the past months. The issue of health is no less important.

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