Fri, Nov 23, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Working class health can improve

By Yeh Pin-yen 葉品言

The Council of Labor Affairs recently published a report on the 10 most common causes of death among laborers. As usual, the top three were cancer, accidents and chronic liver diseases and liver cirrhosis. It's the same old stuff because in recent years there have been no big changes on the list, and the top three causes haven't changed.

Although accidents will always happen, laborers clearly face more dangers than other people. This is illustrated by the fact that death by accident -- the second most common cause of death among laborers -- is only the fifth most common cause for the general population, and chronic liver disease and liver cirrhosis are only seventh on the list for the general public.

Why is there such a high rate of deadly accidents among laborers? The government has known this for a long time: There are more deadly work-related accidents than in everyday life.

To reduce the number of work-related accidents, the council has organized a series of events called the "Workplace Safety Week," and asked people to contribute safety slogans in an effort to increase awareness of the importance of workplace safety.

Taiwan has a high rate of work-related accidents compared with other developed countries. Just after the government published the list, almost by fate, an illegal fireworks factory in Miaoli exploded, killing at least four people and injuring at least six.

These workers are obviously far removed from the council's call for a "healthy Taiwan" where people "work happily."

We can't help ask why accidents like this keep happening again and again. Why is it that in the past five years, there have been six explosions in fireworks factories, killing 27 people and injuring 56?

One of the reasons is that management, to save capital, is unwilling to provide machine equipment and a working environment that meet regulations. But we think that the real culprit is the government's leniency. An example is the labor inspection system.

In an ideal situation, the labor inspection system is the first line of defense to ensure that laborers have a safe work environment. But in Taiwan not even labor inspectors are effective. In the entire country there are only about 280 such inspectors, who are responsible for inspecting more than 280,000 workplaces. Every inspector is responsible for inspecting 1,037 workplaces with more than 40,000 laborers. Taiwan's average labor inspection rate is only 8.1 percent, much lower than the UK's 15 percent or the 20 percent to 30 percent in South Korea and Singapore.

It has long been obvious that only when the number of labor inspectors is increased can inspections improve workplace safety. But the government says that it has insufficient funds for this, or uses other excuses to put off increasing the number of inspectors. With such a low rate of workplace audits, labor inspections have lost any power of deterrence, which causes labor conditions in workplaces to deteriorate. If these fundamental problems are not solved, then no matter how hard the council calls for safety slogans, the number of work-related accidents will continue to rise.

The second most common cause of death for laborers is chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. This could be strongly related to Taiwan's laborers working themselves to exhaustion. Taiwan's laborers are world-famous for how hard they work.

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