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.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Fumed Silica Plants on the Rise in China

Global demand for manufactured silica products is increasing rapidly with many new plants being constructed throughout the world. According to the Boston Business Journal, the Cabot Corp. is planning to build a new plant in Tianjin, China. With so many recent news items on the occupational health issues surrounding silica production, these new development projects are definitely something to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Waste Management: Toxic Ship Heads for Cote d'Ivoire

After being rejected by Dutch officials in Amsterdam, a highly toxic decommissioned cargo ship is heading to the west coast of Africa where officials in the port of Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire have agreed to clean the ship using methods that are illegal in most of the developed world. The ship is carrying 550 tonnes of toxic waste, and method advocated by th Dutch officials was not deemed cost efficient. The story is a grim reminder that there is more to "end of life" ships than shipbreaking. Waste management techniques also play a major part in the process.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Vietnam Takes Steps to Ensure Worker Protection

Vietnam had undertaken a remarkable five-year program to ensure the health and safety of its workers. Social Affairs Ministry figures show that Vietnam averages 4,633 work-place accidents each year. Of these, 468 are fatal and the cost of the accidents is about $15 million US dollars. Figures provided by the ministry’s Department for Work Safety show employer participation in Occupational Safety and Health, or OSH, training increased from 6.52 per cent in 2004 to 58.7 last year. Employee participation rose from 30.93 per cent in 2004 to 74.23 per cent in 2007. Electric installation is considered one of the country’s riskiest jobs and sometimes leads to fatalities.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

ENOC Hosts GCC Occupational Health Conference

Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC), the Dubai Government-owned diversified Energy Group, is staging a conference on occupational health standards in the region. The three-day conference titled ‘Making it happen – ‘development and implementation of occupational health practice’ is being held under the patronage of His Excellency Humaid Al Qutami, UAE Minister of Health. Waddah Ghanem, EHSQ (Environment, Health, Safety and Quality) Compliance Manager at ENOC said that the conference succeeded in stressing the importance of occupational health as a fundamental right of workers. “ENOC, while providing a totally safe and secure working environment for its employees, has also been supporting efforts to place occupational health at the centre of any debate on safety.”

Indian President Urges Mine Safety

Today the President, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, urged all the stakeholders of mining fraternity (the government, business & industry, academics and researchers) to take all necessary steps to minimize the adverse impact of mining on the health of workers and the surrounding population. Speaking at an event promoting mine safety, the President said that living conditions of coal miners could be improved by providing and improving basic facilities such as housing, water supply, medical care and education. She also noted that that the era of globalization, which demands competitive and efficient functioning, has resulted in the need for a new work culture and business environment in the mining sector.

Friday, May 2, 2008

China Records 14,296 cases of Occupational Illness with Pneumoconiosis at the Top of the List

The Ministry of Health reported that China recorded 14,296 cases of occupational diseases last year, including 10,963 cases of pneumoconiosis, a chronic disease of the lungs resulting from long-term inhalation of dust. According to the Ministry of Health China's high incidence of occupational disease is mainly caused by poor working facilities and unsafe production especially in some medium and small-sized companies.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Employers in Rwanda Called Upon to Ensure Safety and Health in the Workplace

On Monday German Professor Bernhard Tenckoff, Director of Operation Safety Management at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) called for employers in Rwanda to uphold the safety and health of their employees. The announcement was made at a one day workshop at Hotel Novotel Umubano, Kigali. "It is very important for employers to deal with the occupational safety and health for their workers here in Rwanda because this will ensure success and development in the country," said Tenckhoff. He encouraged the Rwandan government to work with trade unions as partners.

No Plans to Enforce Farm Safety in Alberta

Jeremy Loome of the Edmonton Sun reported that Alberta's agriculture minister has no plans to enforce farm safety. The minister will not institute safety rules on small or large corporate farms because he claims they will not work and the agriculture community doesn't want them. He plans to focus on education to promote safe practices. All farms in Alberta are exempt from occupational health and safety regulations. According to the opposition Alberta, farm workers are five times more likely to die in an accident than workers in other industries. Canada isn't exactly an "emerging economy" but it is an interesting case study for education without regulation.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sandblasting Jeans in Turkey Linked to Silicosis

The Turkish Thoracic Society met last week in Antalya for their 11th Annual Congress. There was concerned discussion of the sandblasting of jeans in small Turkish workshops which has recently been recognized as a cause of silicosis.

The Ataturk University, School of Medicine conducted a case series between August 2004 and March 2006 concluding that the production of sandblasted jeans in small uncontrolled workplaces may entail significant exposure to silica and the development of rapidly fatal silicosis. Urgent action is required to prevent further cases and mortality.

Sandblasting has been used in the fashion industry since the 1970's. It's use has spread rapidly in the jean industry since vintage jeans became popular in the early 1990s. By the end of the decade "new vintage" jeans were mass produced. The worn look is often achieved through sandblasting which takes place in Mexico and Turkey.

Del Forte Denim
produces jeans that do not use sandblasting. They are looking into ozone washing and using natural enzymes like coffee and tea in order to lighten the environmental footprint of Del Forte Denim. They also integrate practices like hand sanding as opposed to sandblasting.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Chinese Demand for PPE is Surging

Few countries have seen as much growth in manufacturing over the past decade than China. As a result, China is witnessing a big surge in demand for personal protective equipment (PPE). This is leading to a huge influx of foreign PPE companies. While it is not yet known whether or not the new equipment will be more easily accessible to China's labor force, analysts are predicting that the new equipment will be of a higher quality (source: Occupational Health and Safety).

Friday, April 25, 2008

India Sets New Standard for Shipbreaking

India's Bureau of Indian Standard (BIS) now has primary responsibility for approving whether or not individual ships should be broken down in the country's harbors. Shipbreaking provides scrap steel to India's burgeoning steel industry, accounting for nearly seven percent of the country's overall steel production. Until recently, the industry has gone largely unregulated despite many of the ships being insulated with asbestos and widespread international concerns about the health of Indian shipyard workers. The port of Alang is the center of India's shipbreaking industry, but has seen a steady decline in recent years. Many local business leaders are concerned that government regulation could further hurt the city's future prospects.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

South Africa Plans Major Literary Campaign against Silicosis

The South African government is continuing its fight against silicosis among the country's miners through a concerted literary campaign (source: Mining Weekly). According to a spokesperson from the government's Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC), "Various books and booklets will be launched throughout this year, which include best practice scraper winches, a handbook on nutrition, and a handbook on occupational health and hygiene measurements." The Council's efforts will also include the publication of several comic books, presumably aimed at promoting silicosis awareness among illiterate miners. The council's efforts could become a model for other emerging economies to offer common sense awareness and preventative medical practices to those affected by OSH-related injuries and ailments. Keep posted for more details of South Africa's new program.

Monday, April 21, 2008

As Promised...New Drug-resistant TB on the Rise

XDR, a new drug-resistant form of TB is creating a scare in the U.S. According to this Sunday San Jose Mercury News article, Mexico, China, India, Vietnam and the Philippines are the sources of most new TB-cases in foreign-born people in California. If the number of cases continue to increase, officials say that they may implement quarantine measures not seen in th U.S. in 70 years.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

TB Returns to International Stage

Tuberculosis outbreaks, which no longer make headlines in the developed world, are unfortunately making a comeback in the developing world. Diagnosing TB has never been easy due to a significant latency period. According to the Indian newspaper, The Statesman, the Indian government routinely underestimates the number of TB patients. Even officials in the developed world are now being forced to take notice of the growing threat since there has been a series of recent isolated outbreaks in the United States, one in New Mexico and the other in Northern California. In response to growing concern, the San Jose Mercury News is running a major feature on TB this Sunday.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

India's Agate Workers Demand Additional Government Compensation

A March 17th article highlights the struggles of Indian agate workers in the city of Khambhat suffering from silicosis. Agate is a mineral most commonly used to make jewelry. In response to workers' recent demands for government compensation, the government has set-up camps throughout the area, but the workers are demanding more "real" forms of compensation.

It was interesting to learn more about the history of the agate industry in Khambhat from a 2002 Asian Labour Update article. Apparently, silicosis is nothing new to the inhabitants of this city of 80,000 on India's western frontier. The mining, crafting and polishing of agate jewelry employs nearly 30,000 in the area and has been a major industry there for hundreds of years. It's unclear why this has become such a hot button issue over the past year.

New X-Ray to Enhance Silicosis Research in South Africa

Researchers at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), a South African government-funded technology research institute, have developed an x-ray diffraction machine (XRD). The XRD will enable researchers to better identify the phases or crystal forms of silica and other materials present in miners' lungs. According to a researcher on the project, the development of the XRD is just one part of concerted national effort to eliminate silicosis in South African mines by 2013. Read the full article published in Mining Weekly.

For more information on the South African silica industry, read this government report.