Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The China Price: How Do They Get It So Low?

Just in time for the Beijing Olympics, a new book, The China Price, investigates why Chinese goods seem to always have the best price. Former Financial Times correspondent, Alexandra Harney, follows several Chinese items from factory to store shelf to find out just how they have garnered such a steep competitive advantage. Harney highlights the state of OSH in the world's fastest growing economy, and it's not pretty. The book's cover also features one of the more ironic pictures I've ever seen, a Chinese woman sewing an American flag.'s Samrat Chaudry offers a more comprehensive review of the book.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Remembering Bhopal

The New York Times had an excellent piece yesterday on the 1984 Bhopal tragedy. The chemical gas leak occurred on December 4, 1984 in Bhopal, India when 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a Union Carbide plant. It is probably the most notorious in world history, killing thousands immediately following the event, and affecting many members of the community for years to come.

Though it is important to note that most occupational health problems come from long-term exposure, full-scale disasters like Bhopal can have a ripple effect in terms of public opinion towards occupational and environmental health. Think Chernobyl or even Three Mile Island (which caused no deaths or injuries).

Monday, June 30, 2008

Counting Workplace Injuries: a National and International Challenge

An excellent WSJ article discusses the federal government's undercounting of workplace injuries. Their analysis of information from the Department of Labor found that while reported workplace injuries had declined substantially from 2000 to 2006, the workplace fatality rate had stayed the same. According to the article, safety experts blame the increased number of undocumented workers and independent contractors for the increase in undercounts.

The developed world often chastises developing countries' governments for undercounting workplace injuries by alarming rates, but it is important to realize the emerging challenges of OSH reporting in the US and other developed economies as their economies also become more globalized and more informal.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Child Miners' Plight in Bolivia

There's an interesting new BBC story on Bolivia's child miners. Of course, a similar article could have been written in many developing countries, and the US and UK of the 1890s. The author notes that the life expectancy for the average child miner is 40, with most untimely deaths being the result f silicosis.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Zimbabwe Could Face Massive Layoffs due to South African Asbestos Ban

Widespread panic is enveloping the Zimbabwean asbestos industry following a South African ban on asbestos earlier this year. South Africa has been one of Zimbabwe's largest trading partners for asbestos. According to a recent article in the country's Financial Gazette, an estimated 10,000 Zimbabwean workers' jobs could be affected by the ban. This article provides some great insight on the pressures being felt in the worldwide asbestos increase and the need to provide sustainable alternative industries when banning more harmful ones. From the Gazette article:

The Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) has said the use of asbestos has been on the decline worldwide due to the hazards reportedly associated with the mineral.

“The market in now concentrated in developing countries primarily the Far East, Middle East, India, Sri Lanka and Brazil,” said the MMCZ in its strategic plan for 2005 to 2007.

“Sustainability is dependent on controlled production as the market is shrinking,” added the MMCZ.

Zimbabwe commands a nine percent market share of the global asbestos market.

While several European countries have developed new industries to develop alternatives to asbestos products, smaller and poorer economies in other parts of the globe have struggled to find a new niche. There needs to be a concerted effort on the part of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat and the European Green Movement to provide such alternatives.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Big Steel and OSH: ArcelorMittal Takes the Lead

The world's largest steel company, ArcelorMittal, is the first international steel corporation to set minimum occupational health standards for all of its facilities around the world. Headquartered in Luxembourg, ArcellorMittal employs 312,000 employees in 60 countries in the developing and developed world. Read the official company press release here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Silicosis in India

Though there has been so much news out of South Africa and Turkey regarding those countries' struggles to combat silicosis, government officials in India have also been struggling with how to deal with an increase in silicosis victims. A recent feature in the Times of India highlights the struggles of a twenty-something man who is dying of silicosis. Most of the man's family has also died from the disease that he contracted after working in a quartz crushing factory in the Indian state of Gujarat. The crushed quartz is then used in the making of glass products.

From many of our posts, it may seem that silicosis is a relatively new occupational health issue, when in actuality this is far from the truth. Dr. Basil Varkey, who wrote the WebMD article on the silicosis, notes that while the condition has been noted as an occupational health hazard for centuries, more cases are now being reported due to an increase in mechanized stone-crushing practices. This increase combined with a lack of modern industrial hygiene practices in the developing world is leading to a noticeable increase in silicosis cases worldwide.