Unsafe workplaces killing Vietnam

By Minh Hung, Thanh Nien News

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Workers at a factory in the southern province of Binh Duong. Photo: Minh Hung Workers at a factory in the southern province of Binh Duong. Photo: Minh Hung

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Long periods of staring into welding flares have seriously damaged Nguyen Van Bang's vision.
“I'm still luckier than my many colleagues, who lost the use of their eyes after iron filings flew into them,” said the 31-year-old welder at a mechanical service factory in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 12.
Experts have warned about the rising predominance of work-related illnesses, which remain largely unexamined and untreated.
Bang said his vision loss isn't the only hazard in his line of work.
"We suffer frequent coughing fits. We all know it’s because we've inhaled too many fumes and too much iron dust,” he said.
Government statistics show about 28,000 people suffer from occupational diseases, on average, per year.
Silicosis and other respiratory illnesses topped the list, followed by chemical poisoning.
Many companies continue to rely on cheap materials, antiquated technology and illegal and harmful chemicals to reduce input costs, the report noted.
All the corner cutting has posed a serious risk to public health. 
In HCMC, Vietnam's economic hub, the Center for Labor Health and Environment Protection examined more than 10,000 workers who claimed to suffer work-related injuries and chronic diseases in the first nine months of this year.
Nearly a third of those workers had nose/ear/throat diseases and more than 20 percent reported eye diseases.
The city's Institute of Hygiene and Public Health surveyed more than 1,000 workers at three companies in HCMC, Binh Duong and Dong Nai.
Nearly 95 percent were found to suffer from chronic fatigue; 80 percent suffered from muscle and joint pains.
Workplace hazards
Most of the factory workers that Thanh Nien News met reported suffering from health problems caused by their working environments.
Dang Thanh Ut, a garment worker in HCMC, said she suffered from frequent headaches and sinusitis she attributed to 12-hour shifts that she frequently supplements with extra shifts.
“Aside from back problems caused by extended periods of sitting, I cannot see the color black very clearly. All of us have rhinitis caused by the dust in our workplace,” she said.
Meanwhile, Truong Thuy Nga and other workers at the My Chau Printing and Packaging Holdings Company in HCMC’s Tan Phu District suffer from dust and noise pollution.
“Those who are lucky enough to avoid being crushed in a mine collapse usually end up with lung disease,”
--La Tu, an engineer at a coal mine in Quang Ninh Province.
“I also suffer from eye problems caused by working in our quality control department. Most people have to get glasses for astigmatism soon after they start work in my section,” she shouted over the construction noise emanating from her factory.
“Other workers in my section who make tin cans suffer from hearing loss.”
Mining seemed to be the most dangerous job in the country.
La Tu, an engineer at the Nam Mau Coal Mine in the northern province of Quang Ninh, said all of his colleagues come home covered in a thick layer of dust and coal at the end of each working day.
“Those who are lucky enough to avoid being crushed in a mine collapse usually end up with lung disease,” he said.
Another worker at the mine, who asked to remain annonymous, said only select employees are sent to hospitals for therapeutic lung irrigation sessions: “How about the rest who inhale dust every day?”
Unprotected workers
During a conference on working conditions and occupational hazards held on October 31 in HCMC, Dr. Trinh Hong Lan of the city’s Institute for Hygiene and Public Health said many companies did not offer medical checkups to their workers.
“Many workers suffer from occupational diseases but are not examined and treated,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ho Hoang Tuan of the HCMC Medical University Hospital, said most companies don't take sufficient measures to ensure safety in the workplace.
“Many companies with more than 300 employees lack a company nurse or doctor. They also ignore safety measures,” said the doctor who often treats patients for work-related diseases.
“Many workers continue to ignore safety equipment. They don't even know that they have an occupational illness,” he said.
Dr. Huynh Tan Tien, director of HCMC Center for Labor Health and Environment Protection, said his center recently completed a survey of 6,500 companies and more than 126,000 workers.
“A quarter of them were found with ‘bad’ and ‘very bad’ health conditions,” he said.
“Worker health is getting worse; if immediate and effective action isn't taken, Vietnam’s workforce will surely get weaker, causing dire consequence to production and the nation's medical costs.”

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