Jun Wang, PhD, PE, is an assistant professor in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Oklahoma College of Public Health, where he has been an independent researcher and industrial hygiene educator for three years. Wang, who is the incoming chair of AIHA’s Aerosol Technology Committee, started his career as an industrial hygienist after attending graduate school, where his research focused on welding fume exposures and developing engineering controls. Originally from China, Wang frequently returns to visit Chinese agencies, departments, and universities to help track their progress toward better industrial hygiene conditions. Wang is also involved in AIHA’s Risk Assessment Committee and the Oklahoma Section of AIHA. The Synergist: How did you get involved in China’s occupational health work?
Jun Wang:
I was born in China and I can speak Mandarin as well as English, so it’s easy for me to communicate with the occupational health folks over there. I still have a lot of family members living in China, and I really care about their health and wellness. I like working with the institutions, organizations, and authorities in China to make sure that people, especially workers, are being taken good care of. I’ve also really enjoyed attending the conferences in China. There’s one very important one: the second annual U.S.-China Occupational Health Symposium that was held this year in July. It was co-hosted by AIHA and the China State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), the National Center for International Cooperation in Work Safety (NCICS). It was held in Guangzhou, China and turned out to be a great event. There were many occupational health professionals from all sides of the world in attendance, and we exchanged a lot of ideas and comments. Before the conference this year, I visited several branches of the Center for Disease Control in China. I made quite a few connections there and I visited their offices frequently thereafter, so I have a good understanding of both their knowledge and frustrations about occupational health, occupational disease control, and occupational disease statistics there. Some of those officers and researchers have been invited to my department and laboratory for scholarly visiting activities. Speaking of my university, I’m also working with a couple of universities in China because there is a huge gap in terms of education of the occupational health work force, so I’m trying to establish more conversations among academics too. TS: ​What are the major occupational health problems in China? JW : There are many problems, and the problems are quite different from the major concerns here in the United States. China probably has the largest work force of anywhere in the world, especially in certain sectors like manufacturing, construction, and mining, and the demands for those sectors are pretty high in China. There are a lot of infrastructure construction activities going on in China right now as well as manufacturing—most crucially the manufacturing of chemicals and other hazardous materials. Incidentally, those three sectors rank the highest in terms of occupational fatality and occupational disease rates. We can divide China’s major occupational health problems into two categories. Problems in category one (Cat I) could lead to immediate fatalities or acute health effects; examples include mining explosions or falls from height. These are major concerns for the Chinese government and businesses. Category two (Cat II) comprises more or less similar concerns as here in the U.S. such as chronic exposures to chemicals, noise, radiation, heat, and ergonomic issues. Cat II—although in China it probably affects a larger population than Cat I—is not drawing enough attention, mostly because the adverse effects of those exposures will only be seen after 10 to 30 years. The fatality rate from explosions or other safety issues in Cat I has been declining over the years in China. However, there have been some big incidents. For example, last year there was a huge explosion at a chemical storage facility in the city of Tianjin that killed more than 170 people. The mayor and almost all the high-ranking officers in that city had to resign because of that incident. By contrast, chronic exposures in Cat II are still steadily increasing in China from exposures to chemicals, noise, and radiation. It should be noted that there’s a major lack of strength in regulations related to chronic exposures. Another problem faced by Chinese workers is low wages, which can be as low as or less than five dollars per hour, with extended working hours and no overtime pay. As you can expect, they are making things in a really cheap way in China, so if they’re paying that amount, you don’t expect that they would have good industrial hygiene conditions. Occupational health or other problems resulting from poor industrial hygiene conditions are daily problems for Chinese workers.
Editor's note: Exclusive to the digital Synergist, Pole to Pole focuses on the challenges of practicing industrial and occupational hygiene around the world. Each month, the digital Synergist features an edited Q&A based on an interview with an industrial hygienist about how the IH/OH profession differs from country to country. The
previous installment
of “Pole to Pole” features AIHA member Maharshi Mehta, who discussed IH in India. This month, the series focuses on China.
Pole to Pole:
An Interview with Jun Wang
"In my opinion, the United States has the most complete hierarchy of an occupational health framework of regulatory practices and education research in the whole world. China is learning, and they’re catching up." -Jun Wang
TS: What is the current occupational health regulatory framework in China?
JW: China has a unique regulatory framework, and it has been shifting in recent years. The whole regulatory framework starts with the Ministry of Health, which in 2013 changed its name to the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC). The organization still carries the same function and is more or less equivalent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the HHS. The Ministry of Health was regulating industrial hygiene for most of the first decade of the 21st century, and a lot of problems were raised during that period from an administrative perspective. The Ministry of Health had a lot of knowledge about disease prevention and control, but they didn’t necessarily have a powerful enforcement team. The Chinese government realized this, and they have been shifting the responsibility of regulating industrial hygiene to a different agency called the State Administration of Work Safety, which is often abbreviated as SAWS. SAWS has great capacity for enforcing safety laws, and they have state-level or local-level agencies all across the country. SAWS used to specifically emphasize mining safety and safety productions with the goal of reducing fatalities and maintaining an accident-free work environment—not only protecting the workers, but also increasing production rate. For example, if you have a mining explosion, the mining has to stop due to safety issues, and SAWS had a lot of responsibility to oversee it. After they took over the industrial hygiene or occupational health part from NHFPC, they realized that they have some technical shortcomings in this field and are actively looking for solutions. That’s why the directors of SAWS attended AIHce last year and recently visited the AIHA office. In terms of laws that governing occupational health in China, there are two major ones. The first is the Law of Work Safety and the second is called the Occupational Disease Prevention and Control Act, which is similar to the OSH Act passed in the U.S. As the name suggests, the Law on Work Safety is heavily focused on safety. The second Act is the one that regulates occupational disease from exposure to common industrial hygiene problems such as chemical exposures, heat stress, noise, and radiation. Both of these laws are constantly being updated. There are also some other laws such as laws on mining safety, labor laws, fire protection laws, and emergency response laws just like here in the U.S. Major problems in China include detailed regulations or micromanagement as well as permissible limits. There’s still a long way to go on these issues. For example, the Occupational Disease Prevention and Control Act lists more than 400 different substances that need to be controlled. However, half of them either don’t have any limit values or don’t specify what kind of measurement protocols to use. Many of the measurement protocols or limit values that exist in China actually come from translational adoption from the United States or other countries like Germany. But a lot of mistranslations or errors occur when they try to adapt these limit values, and that’s causing problems with enforcement. A lot of companies are confused about how to comply with the laws. However, many companies are highly motivated to enforce stricter limits. For example, global companies like General Motors and General Electric are heavily invested in China, so they have their own standalone EHS offices in the country. They are trying to maintain their integrity in occupational health across the globe, so they have higher standards than the local laws. But local companies are struggling either to understand the laws or to figure out where to start to comply with the laws. TS: How do you compare occupational health in China and U.S.? JW: I see a lot of similarities between China now and the U.S. around 30 or 40 years ago. Back when the U.S. was building many freeways and other things, there were many occupational-related injuries and diseases, which was part of the motivation for the OSH Act. Right now, China is following in the United States’ steps. When countries like the U.S. set up examples or templates to follow, it’s very easy because they have shown what works and what’s not working. China will probably try to avoid certain problems and try to adopt pieces that are practical, effective, and proven to work. I think there are more activities happening between the Chinese and the U.S. state departments and organizations in terms of conversations, the symposium, and conferences. These activities may not usually be reflected in everyday media, but it’s happening. In my opinion, the United States has the most complete hierarchy of an occupational health framework of regulatory practices and education research in the whole world. China is learning, and they’re catching up.

TS: What about the education of occupational health work force in China? JW:
A big problem—rather, emergency—in China right now is the lack of proper occupational health education and, as a result, the lack of occupational health work force. In China, the university degree or program certification process is done by a state agency called the Ministry of Education. (In the United States, this is usually done by ABET.) In China, the problem is that industrial hygiene is regulated by SAWS and the whole education scene is regulated by the Ministry of Education, and these two departments don’t necessarily communicate with each other very well; one represents how universities should educate their people, and the other represents the capacities practitioners should have. Right now, there is a mismatch in the certification category in China for occupational health or industrial hygiene: it’s actually categorized as a medical degree. This means that most programs of industrial hygiene follow a medical curriculum, so that students will get a lot of toxicology and even pathology, but nothing like traditional sampling and engineering controls implementation, which are pretty standard in the U.S. This is something that was actually pointed out about 400 years ago by Bernardino Ramazzini. He said that occupational health disease should be studied in the field, not in the hospital. Right now in China, it’s studied in the hospital, which essentially creates a gap between the occupational health work force educator and practitioner. For example, when companies in China need people who understand ventilation and engineering controls, they can’t turn to students in industrial hygiene or occupational health because the universities don’t teach that in those programs. To comply with regulations, companies go out and hire people with knowledge of ventilation, and in China those people have usually graduated from mechanical engineering or HVAC engineering. They’re not really interested in industrial hygiene and have probably never heard about it. So there’s a gap in this whole pipeline from education to the work force demands. Chinese students in the industrial hygiene programs are training to be occupational medical doctors, and the graduates of these programs either go on to become actual doctors or go to different levels of the Center for Disease Control to become disease control specialists or statisticians. On the bright side, I’ve seen more efforts to fill this need. For example, people can take the CIH exam right now in China. The credit goes to ABIH; they’re actually hosting exams in China with the same criteria as here in the United States. As I educate myself, I’m looking for more opportunities to initiate conversations with Chinese universities to help establish dual-degree programs, student exchange, and faculty visiting. I believe that in the future, there will be more need for industrial hygienists in China, so the education needs to catch up—especially to the U.S. standard.