HONG KONG – 200 million Chinese workers suffer from occupational diseases. About 90 percent of them, or 180 million people, are agricultural workers. One-third of China's working population suffers severely from occupational diseases. This is just one of the huge concerns hidden behind China's rapid economic growth.
An recent article in the Hong Kong Sun lists different types of occupational diseases. At the top of the list are the most harmful diseases such as pneumoconiosis (chronic damage from inhaling metallic particles into the lungs), occupational intermittent or chronic poisoning, and deafness caused by industrial noise. These three traditional occupational hazards are basically under control in developed countries. However, in China the situation continues to grow worse.
China's new cases of pneumoconiosis, for example, numbered around 12,000 per year. At present, there are at least a total of 600,000 cases and another 600,000 suspected cases. Projected lifespan does not exceed 10 years for those with this disease. Over 1.2 million families throughout China have felt the despair of seeing members stricken with pneumoconiosis.
The Sun article cites the lowering of regulatory thresholds to accommodate the development of aggressive economic growth. To attract business investment, some areas are even waiving all environmental inquiries. This has resulted in occupational hazards being transmitted from outside China's borders to inside, from the cities to the villages, and from the eastern areas to the mid-western areas. China's economy grows, while at the same time it pays a heavy price in healthy lives
The lack of enforcement by the Chinese governmental authorities is another cause of the unchecked growth of occupational diseases. The current government system in China is a multi-layered system, with overlapping authority and responsibilities that are not clearly defined. Poor safety awareness among law officials, inferior safety facilities, ineffective rules and superficial regulations offer little or no protection to workers.
The Sun article emphasizes that the underlying cause of rising occupational diseases rates is due to a disregard for the value of human lives. However, life is most precious in this world. All economic growth becomes meaningless and fruitless, and the losses far outweigh the gains, if people are not healthy to enjoy or benefit from it.