A pending law stipulates that workers will have a lower burden of proof when it comes to occupational disease claims
In 2009, factory worker Zhang Haichao made headlines when he voluntarily underwent open-chest surgery to prove that he had contracted pneumoconiosis, also known as "black lung disease."
Although multiple private doctors had already diagnosed the fatal disease through x-rays, Zhang could not collect workplace injury compensation because a government hospital had refused to corroborate the diagnoses. Suspecting corruption between his employer and the hospital, Zhang opted for an operation to physically reveal the dust resting in his lungs.
Now, a draft law in China is seeking to make it easier for workers like Zhang to prove that they were injured while on the job.
Specifically, the draft law titled "Diagnosis and Identification of Occupational Disease" says that if no evidence exists negating the possibility of a hazardous workplace affecting a worker's health, then the case automatically qualifies as an instance of occupational disease.
Moreover, organizations responsible for formally diagnosing occupational disease—such as local hospitals—may not refuse a patients' request for an examination, the draft law holds.
According to a 2009 Ministry of Health report, 200 million workers in China work in hazardous workplaces, but 37.8 percent do not receive any compensation. Yu Wenlan, a health expert at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the China Daily in 2010 that only 10 percent of employees receive regular occupational health services such as free check-ups.
The draft law will require employers to submit a large amount of documentation to the government, including records about each workers' occupational history and the work site's risk factors. Workers may appeal to the State Administration of Work Safety to conduct an investigation if they think their company's paperwork is not in order.
When workers disagree with the diagnosis given by hospitals approved by provincial health bureaus, they may apply to local health departments for another examination, under the draft law. If they still disagree with the local health department, then they may appeal to provincial health departments.
Hospitals that provide false diagnoses after taking bribes are punishable for up to 50,000 in fines, and may lose their occupational disease diagnosis certification, the draft legislation says.
In addition to the pending law, the Chinese government also began requesting comments and suggestions to draft legislation on "China's Law on the Prevention and Treatment of Occupational Diseases."
In the end, Zhang's open-chest surgery allowed him to collect 600,000 yuan in compensation, prompting 13 other workers to opt for the procedure. It was a rare success in a country where black lung disease caused by the inhalation of dust comprises the vast majority of reported occupational disease cases.
The ailment costs China 8 billion yuan in healthcare fees every year, and between 1949 and 2009 has affected 653,000 people, out of the total 720,000 occupational disease cases reported.
146,500 Chinese have died as a direct result of Black Lung Disease, said Tang Chun, an occupational disease expert with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, to the China Daily in 2010.