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: China|
An Interview with Jun Wang