China Underground > Essential guide to China > Occupational Health & Safety In China Improves, But More Must Be Done

Occupational Health & Safety In China Improves, But More Must Be Done

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Taking steps to improve workplace health and safety significantly reduces occupational accidents and deaths. China is proof of this as the Ministry of Emergency Management reports workplace accidents dropped by 27% in 2022 compared to the previous year. Meanwhile, work-related deaths fell by more than 23%. These declines are a result of revisions to the Work Safety Law of China which came into effect in September 2021. However, this law hasn’t improved occupational health and safety in all areas. So, let’s take a look at what has and hasn’t improved and how workplace safety in China compares to the rest of the world. 

Positive impact

The new laws that came in in 2021 as part of the Work Safety Law put an increased onus on employer responsibility when it comes to workplace safety. Penalties for safety violations were increased which are sure to have played a role in the dramatic decrease in workplace accidents in 2022. Further regulations, including The Regulations on Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems and The Regulations on the Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases, have made working in China safer. The first requires all employers to implement occupational health and safety management systems and the second details employer and employee responsibilities in relation to controlling occupational diseases.

Poor working conditions

Despite all these positives, China is not known for its good working conditions. Firstly, working hours are long, with the average working week coming in at 48.8 hours, even though the law states that workers shouldn’t work more than 8 hours a day or 44 hours per week. Factories are particularly harsh places for Chinese workers to work as 83% of employers in this field have a labor shortage. As a result, the workers they do have are overworked and conditions are poor. These employees also complain of being underpaid. Marketplace recently reported that it’s common practice for factories to advertise a wage that’s higher than they actually pay.

Working in other countries

Even though China may not have the most desirable occupational health and safety laws, it is considered a safer place to work than many other countries. A recent study put countries, including Mexico, the US, and the UK in the top 10 least safe countries to work in. An example of why this may be happened in 2014 when 23 Chinese cockle pickers lost their lives in Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, UK after becoming trapped by incoming tides. All of the workers were working illegally and were taken advantage of by Chinese-born Lin Liang Ren who lived in Liverpool, UK. Fatal workplace deaths are also common in the US. In just one year, Texas recorded 533 deaths, Florida had 315, and New York reported 247. Workplace fatalities are also known as wrongful deaths. Therefore, wrongful death attorneys will step in to deal with all elements of the case. This includes determining negligence, arranging damages, and seeking compensation for the affected family.

Expat experiences

Expats in China get it tough too. There are currently more than 845,600 expats living in mainland China. Of these, 444,336 moved there for employment reasons. For expats, working in China has both its ups and downs. There are some good positions available in China and most expats work in upper management or senior-level jobs where the pay is high. As the cost of living in China is around 45% less than it is in the US, working in these roles is financially beneficial. But there are also some downsides. Expats often find the switch in culture challenging. The Chinese frequently use the word ‘foreigner’ which is not to everyone’s liking. Annual leave can also be an issue as Western holidays are not celebrated, so getting time off to travel back home is difficult. 10 days of national holiday and 5 days annual leave is the maximum time off most employers allow as well. It’s also crucial for expats to learn Mandarin, otherwise, segregation among co-workers commonly occurs.

China has taken some positive steps to improve workplace health and safety. But there is still a lot that needs to be done to ensure that workers are protected, including setting a minimum wage, ensuring maximum working hour laws are followed, and improving annual leave entitlement. 

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