CCTV news report highlights occupational illness in China

23 February 2010
More than a month after 2,000 workers staged a violent demonstration at a Taiwanese electronics plant in Suzhou, China’s pre-eminent television station, CCTV1, investigated the background to the dispute and confirmed workers’ claims that 47 employees had been poisoned by the toxic chemical, hexane, used in the factory to clean touch screen panels for mobile phones.

CCTV1’s Key Interview (焦点访谈) did not mention the strike but reported the plight of the workers, many of whom were still in hospital, very sympathetically. It also interviewed local government and trade union officials who expressed grave concern and demanded the company stop using hexane and discipline the managers responsible for introducing hazardous materials into the workplace. The company confirmed that it had already stopped using hexane to clean touch screen panels.

Exposure to hexane can reportedly cause nerve damage and muscle atrophy, and many of workers interviewed complained of muscle weakness, headaches and dizziness. They said they were given minimal protection from fumes and were unaware that they were working with toxic materials, claims backed up by government officials interviewed in the report.

The CCTV investigation is the latest example of the increasing prominence the official media is giving to occupational disease in China, following recent exposes of pneumoconiosis cases among gold miners in Gansu, construction workers from Hunan, and most famously the migrant worker, Zhang Haichao, who became a media celebrity after he underwent open-chest surgery in order to prove he was suffering from an occupational disease.

The central government is currently revising its Work-related Injury Insurance Regulations (工伤保险条例), and Beijing seems keen to raise awareness of this increasingly important and serious issue prior to the implementation of the revised regulations later this year.
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