China, a leader in economic growth, saw a 6.9% increase in GDP in 20171 and now has a workforce of around 776 million people2. This has led the government to apply a stronger focus on health as a key element for building a sustainable future. Regulatory standards and laws are being adjusted to emphasise the significance of organisations implementing the correct level of occupational health and safety standards for their workforce. This resulted in clear improvements in occupational health statistics in 2017:
- The number of deaths caused by workplace accidents fell by 12.1%
- More than 4.6 million onsite inspections took place
- Total fines imposed by authorities for workplace health and safety violations rose by 58% to equal around 3.3 billion CNY (USD 521.10 million)
With this momentum on occupational health and safety, it is imperative for organisations currently operating, or looking to operate in China, to implement clear policies and procedures in order to avoid financial and legal implications.
Occupational Safety & Health Legislation
In China, several national ministries and agencies are involved in regulating occupational health and safety at work including, most notably:
- Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security
- National Health Commission
- Ministry of Emergency Management
At a national level the Labour Law applies to all organisations. The Labour Law provides requirements on working hours, rest and vacations, occupational health and safety and special protection for female and young workers. The Regulation on Inspection of Labour Protection requires local human resources and social security bureaus to carry out inspections on labour protection of facilities employing workers.
The Occupational Health Law stipulates requirements on occupational disease prevention and occupational hazard identification and management. The Classification and Catalogue of Occupational Diseases and the Classification Catalogue of Occupational Hazards respectively list the scope and categories of regulated occupational diseases and hazards.
Occupational Health Risks
In 1957, there were only 14 kinds of occupational diseases recognised in China, but in 2013, the number significantly increased to over 1323. The main occupational health hazard faced by organisations is exposure to dust. With dust-lung disease accounting for 71% of all reported occupational diseases, it is critical for organisations to try to minimise exposure and continuously monitor air quality.
Workplace Health Management
As a subset of occupational health, workplace health management ranks among the top challenges organisations face. These challenges are mainly related to awareness and education:
- Occupational health accidents and incidents are mostly due to the lack of implementation of health, safety and environment procedures;
- With more occupational health standards and regulations for organisations to comply with, there is a growing need for more education for employees and managers;
- Workplace health is increasingly complex as it now integrates employee wellbeing needs. Organisations not only have to produce a safe workplace, they should now also have to promote healthy behaviours.
To keep their workforce healthy, companies need to look at both health protection and the health promotion agenda. Health protection is to prevent occupational diseases and this is mostly driven by local occupational health legislation. Health promotion is desired to improve the overall health of the workforce, in order to avoid absenteeism. This is also driven by an organisation’s Duty of Care agenda.
Prevention in Occupational Health
Prevention is an integral component of occupational health as it drives actions that aim to reduce workplace hazards exposure. Many interventions target specific risks that may have an impact on the health of employees, as individuals or collectively.
From a health perspective, the main risks and hazards targeted include the need to prevent workers from being unfit for work, occupational health hazards and unhealthy behaviours. Many programmes and intervention measures are available for employers to address these risks, from occupational health management systems to health check programmes, or awareness education programmes.
The challenge with prevention is that the benefits may not be immediately tangible and the investment can be substantial.
Although prevention is widely used as a daily workplace slogan within many companies in China, it does not mean systematic prevention measures are in place. To have a prevention system in place, it is important to have clear procedures which can be implemented on a daily basis.
Mitigating occupational health and safety risks and protecting the lives of employees is an important sustainability goal for any organisation. In order to effectively manage these risks, organisations should be aware of the regulations and best practices to reduce the number of major medical and security incidents, business disruptions and complex evacuations. Taking a proactive approach to managing occupational health challenges will mitigate risks to employees, demonstrate a commitment to Duty of Care and support sustainability goals and reporting.
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