AIHA’s relationship with occupational health organizations and authorities in China has been developing since the mid-1990s. AIHA takes great interest in advancing the practice of industrial/occupational hygiene in one of the world’s largest and fastest growing economies. Yang Yuanyuan, Deputy Director of China’s State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), graciously agreed to answer questions from The Synergist about the opportunities and challenges of occupational health in China. The transcript of this exclusive interview with Minister Yang appears below and will be published in the print edition of the May Synergist. Minister Yang is pictured above. QIn the U.S., different agencies are charged with enforcement and research related to occupational health. While OSHA manages enforcement and regulations, NIOSH conducts research to support OSHA. How is the research function handled in China?
The regulation of occupational health in China has been adjusted many times. The State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC), and other departments are responsible for the formulation and implementation of occupational health regulations and standards. The SAWS is responsible for drafting regulations and rules on occupational health supervision and standards concerning engineering control of occupational hazards, occupational health protection facilities, and personal protection by employers. The NHFPC works together with the SAWS, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, and others to formulate regulations and plans on occupational diseases prevention and control, as well as to formulate and issue national occupational health standards.
Research on occupational health in China is characterized by state and local cooperation, interconnectedness between comprehensive research and industry research, and support by social organizations, universities and research institutes. At the state level, there are Occupational Health and Toxicology Control Institute of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and National Institute for Radiological Protection of CDC, all affiliated with the NHFPC and other research institutes.
The State Administration of Work Safety is now integrating resources to establish a “National Research Institute for Occupational Disease Hazards.” It aims to play a supportive role to the research on occupational health regulations and standards, the research on key projects and technological application as well as the improvement of government regulatory capacity. Safety research institutes, disease control centers and occupational disease prevention institutes in various regions also conduct comprehensive research, providing technical assistance to the formulation of regional regulations, standards and policies.
At the same time, some industry research institutes conduct research on industry regulations, standards and technologies, which supplement state policies and regulations. In addition, some industry associations such as the China Occupational Safety and Health Association (COSHA) and institutions of higher education are an important force, playing their role in basic research and other R&D projects. QChina has set up a comprehensive regulatory system including laws, regulations, and standards to address occupational health concerns and protect worker health. How does China plan to further develop these regulations?
The Chinese government attaches great importance to occupational health, which is a matter of ensuring the health rights of workers and taking a series of measures to deepen our work in occupational health. The State Administration of Work Safety, as a regulatory body of workplace health, has been making tremendous efforts to establish regulations, rules and standards in occupational health. Based on the revised Law of the People’s Republic of China on Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases in 2011, we have successively issued five departmental rules including the Provisions on the Supervision and Administration of Occupational Health at Workplaces, Administrative Measures for the Report of Occupational Disease Hazards at Workplaces, Measures for the Supervision and Administration of Employers’ Occupational Health Surveillance, Interim Measures for the Supervision and Administration of Occupational Health Service Organizations and Interim Measures for the Supervision and Administration of the “Three Simultaneities” for Occupational Health at Construction Projects. In addition, we have also issued 77 occupational health standards such as the Technical Guideline of Dust Control for Stone Processing and Technical Guideline of Dust and Poison Control for Furniture Industry as well as 22 reference documents and 37 OH work documents.
Establishing laws, regulations, and standards is the foundation for occupational health, and their implementations are important components of occupational health regulation. The State Administration of Work Safety will strengthen inspection and law enforcement in addition to promoting education and training, to ensure that legal requirements are fully implemented at workplaces and operational positions. Mindful of the fact that occupational disease hazards in China are severe, the government should strengthen regular inspections and urge enterprises to fulfill their responsibility in occupational disease prevention and control. The number of enterprises inspected by safety supervision bodies at all levels should not be less than 300,000 each year.
The government should also put more emphasis on an ad-hoc rectification campaign. Each year, two or three key sectors in which occupational disease hazards are severe should be identified and inspected. The number of enterprises in these sectors to be inspected should be no less than 20,000. For those who refuse to rectify or fail to fully rectify, local governments are empowered to close these enterprises in accordance with law. Third, we emphasize the “three simultaneities” regulation at construction projects: we must ensure that occupational disease prevention and control facilities are completed, their standards live up to requirements, and they start to be used at the same time with the main project. Fourth, we improve law enforcement methods by standardizing what and how to inspect. We have adopted unannounced inspections and increased inspection frequency for regions and enterprises with severe occupational disease hazards. Fifth, penalties are strictly applied to non-compliant enterprises. We also publicize enterprises with noticeable hidden hazards and typical violations to strengthen deterrence. Sixth, we investigate incidents derived from occupational disease hazards and punish those accountable. Q China has a professional qualification for Certified Safety Engineer (CSE). Do you think it is necessary to set a Certified Industrial Hygienist or Occupational Hygienist qualification to promote professional development?
Professional technicians are of great importance to workplace safety and occupational health. Occupational health technical service is much more demanding than safety intermediary service. It is imperative to establish a certified occupational health technician system in China. Second, China is experiencing fast economic growth and thus faces daunting challenges in occupational disease prevention and control. Third, China lacks occupational health technicians, and thus the coverage of occupational health service is limited. Therefore, establishing a professional and inter-disciplinary occupational health technician team is in line with the requirements of harmonious social and economic development.
Establishing a certified occupational health technician system and incorporating an occupational health technical service into vocational qualification management is of vital importance to improving the technical competency and moral standards of occupational health professionals and enhancing the overall level of occupational health service. It is constructive to healthy economic development.
We need to do the following fundamental work. First, we need to conduct in-depth study to learn the certified occupational health technician system from developed countries, such as the CIH in the U.S., the occupational consultant system in Japan, and the accident prevention inspectors in Germany. Second, we need to accelerate system construction. We need to establish a selection, training, evaluation, registration, certification, and supervision management system through research, laying a foundation for a certified occupational health technician system. Third, we need to strengthen training and management. We need to ensure that resources are available to bridge the current training, evaluation, and registration system for occupational health professionals with the implementation of a certified occupational health technician system. We must ensure a stable and orderly transition. We will deepen and broaden international cooperation in the future to perfect China’s certified occupational health technician system. We endeavor to meet international standards and promote mutual recognition of the qualifications of occupational health professionals between China and other countries. Q “Old” hazards like silica, benzene, and lead still cause most of the occupational diseases in China, and SAWS has put significant effort into controlling these hazards. What plans does SAWS have to address emerging hazards like nanoparticles, ergonomics, and biohazards in the workplace?
There are two major aspects of work in occupational health in China. First, we prevent occupational diseases caused by hazardous dust and poisonous substances. In recent years, we have organized ad-hoc rectification campaigns directed against dust and poisonous substances. We are now considering giving subsidies to SMEs in sectors with severe occupational disease hazards caused by dust and poisonous substances to urge them to make improvements. The prevention and control of traditional occupational disease hazards has been strengthened.
In addition to the focus on the prevention and control of traditional occupational disease hazards, we’ve noticed that, with the development of strategic emerging industries such as new-generation information technology, biology, high-end manufacturing, and new energy and materials, new occupational disease hazards are appearing. First, the research and development of nanomaterials brings about occupational hazards. Second, the flourishing IT industry brings about work-related diseases such as lumbago and backache, cervical spondylosis, mouse hand, etc. that are against right ergonomics. Third, workers sustain occupational infectious diseases such as anthracnose, forest encephalitis, brucellosis, AIDS, Lyme disease, etc. through exposure to occupational biohazards.
To address these new challenges, we have taken a series of measures in recent years. First, we have enhanced, both in scale and vigor, our regulation of occupational infectious disease. We have incorporated AIDS and Lyme disease into statutory occupational disease management. We are making efforts to incorporate work-related diseases that have clear cause, that can cause occupational diseases, and that have detrimental effects into our national statutory occupational disease list. Second, we have increased support for research into the effects of nanomaterials to workers’ occupational health from the angle of establishing scientific research projects, while promoting the research and development of nanotechnology and its industrialization. We will take steps to establish the monitoring system and legal system for nanomaterials based on our current research on their toxicology and harmfulness. Third, we will promote the research and application of ergonomics in occupational health. We will learn the experience and practices from other countries and see what can be applied in China given China’s economic development. We will strengthen the understanding of ergonomics by employers and workers and the regulation of occupational health issues. Fourth, we will conduct international technical cooperation and exchanges at various levels on emerging industries and emerging occupational hazards to promote the development of protection technologies for emerging occupational hazards in China. Q What assistance or technical support do you think international professional organizations like AIHA can provide? AIHA, with wide brand recognition, has a history of more than 70 years. It possesses a sound operational pattern, a unique way of training industrial hygienists, and advanced occupational health evaluation techniques, which are all worth learning.
First, we should learn the management experience from professional organizations such as AIHA to explore how we can play the supportive role of industry associations in government’s regulation of occupational health. For example, we have established the Occupational Health Service Branch of COSHA, which is a similar organization to AIHA. With strong government support, this organization has taken over the evaluation of occupational health technicians. It will grow to a social organization with self-management and self-discipline by gaining more functions. Its status and role will be incessantly improved. Second, we will learn the training, certification, and management of the CIH from the U.S. and endeavor to establish a CIH system in China.
Third, we will learn the laboratory certification procedures and standards from AIHA. We will conduct research to establish a certification system and standards for China’s occupational health laboratories. We will explore ways of mutual recognition of laboratory certification between China and the U.S. by sharing resources and enhancing technical exchanges. Fourth, we would like to strengthen cooperation with AIHA on scientific and technological research, particularly occupational exposure limit management, inspection and law enforcement, PPE, and engineering controls. Fifth, we will strengthen research and exchanges on occupational exposure limit assessment and management, to explore occupational exposure limit assessment mode and management strategies that are suitable to Chinese companies.
The Synergist thanks William Zhu and Joey Yang, AIHA’s ambassadors to China, for their help in developing the questions for Minister Yang.
An Interview with Minister Yang Occupational Health and Safety in China
Just Announced: AIHA, NCICS to Hold Fir?st Occupational Health Conference in Shanghai The 1st China-U.S. Occupational Health Symposium, hosted by China’s National Center for International Cooperation in Work Safety, State Administration of Work Safety (NCICS, SAWS) and AIHA, will take place Sept. 15–16, 2015, in Shanghai, China. The conference will revolve around the theme of “Exploring Challenges and Opportunities in Occupational Health.” It will highlight best practices from the U.S. and other developed countries, explore new paths of occupational health for China, and foster relevant industries. NCICS and AIHA invite safety and health managers, occupational health professionals, medical staff, researchers, and representatives from disease control and evaluation service organizations and institutions to participate in the Symposium and share insights.
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