Occupational health and safety in China: The case of state-managed enterprises

Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Journal of Health Services, 2010, 40 (1), pp. 43 - 60
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The widely held image, inside and outside China, of the total absence of an occupational health and safety (OHS) system in that country is not an accurate picture. This article argues that the unsafe working conditions and prevalent occupational diseases and injuries widely reported in the Chinese and foreign media occur mostly in private mines and in the Asian foreign-funded and domestic private manufacturing sectors. In contrast, the capital-intensive, larger state-owned enterprises and enterprises that have been transformed from state enterprises generally have better OHS systems. An in-depth study of two such enterprises reveals viable OHS systems, worker-management OHS committees, regular health and safety inspections, and trade unions' and workers congresses' oversight and supervision. Above all, there is an enterprise culture that regards accidents as avoidable, and both workers and management feel distressed and guilty when accidents happen. The authors believe it is important to acknowledge and champion these positive examples of "best practices" that can be emulated in workplaces throughout China, which is under great pressure from competitive domestic and global forces to relax its OHS standards.
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