STAYING ALIVE IN CHINA
Peter Rousmaniere's take on occupational risks in China is from my experience too rosy of a picture ("Work Safety Emerges in China," in Risk and Insurance®, March 2007, Page 20).
I have been to China twice since 2004, for three-week periods--Shanghai in 2004, and Wuhan in 2006 to teach risk and insurance at Wuhan University of Technology. My trip to Wuhan allowed me to monitor such issues as work and traffic safety, and other risk, liability and insurance matters. It is true that regulations are not enforced. Clearly, there is not a culture of safety in China. I believe the university's desire to present a class on risk management and insurance is an effort to train and educate the young--a start and step in the right direction. Most students were eager to learn and interested in the subject, although it seemed foreign to them.
To the specific point, Rousmaniere's article quoted John Ingram as regards, "China is gaining in a few years what America achieved in 100 years of managing occupational risk." Clearly, I could not dispute such an esteemed professional, one, from pure credentials and, two, from a less than definitive explanation to exactly what that statement means. However, I would say that, where "the rubber meets the road," China is a long way, not only from occupational safety parity, but road safety as well.
Safety violations are common. A small, but obvious, example includes sidewalk repair where open pits (3- to 4-feet deep, running for 20 feet) are not protected by barriers or notice.These pits were at the very front of businesses with customers entering and exiting around the open pits--no barricades or warnings.There were many other situations I observed with significant potential for loss of life and limb. From the eighth-floor windows of the classroom, I could point out to students construction workers on top of 15- and 20-story buildings without any safety harness. Truly, had I kept a list, it would have been endless.
Traffic safety is a real joke. Crosswalks are the first significant hazard for pedestrians. Traffic does not stop for the pedestrian. You have to look in all directions as you cross a road at a crosswalk--as traffic does come from all directions. It is not a safe process. The number of deaths on Chinese roads is unbelievable. The World Health Organization reports 600 deaths and 45,000 injuries per day in vehicle-related accidents. Even the Chinese government acknowledges 300 deaths per day.
My experiences included vehicles traveling on a four-lane road at more than 70 mph with bicycles, animals crossing the road, slow moving trucks and pedestrians. In some cases, there was construction to the roadway with a section of the road missing and no signs giving sufficient advanced notice of such hazards. As a passenger in a van, on one Saturday trip to the mountains, I thought it would be my last. While traveling at 50 to 60 mph, the van driver crossed into the opposite lane of travel, on curves, to pass other cars--more than once. What a roller coaster ride. Certainly, I knew I was alive . . . for how long, was the question.
Lewis County, Wash.
(Adjunct Instructor, St. Martin's University)
June 1, 2007
Copyright 2007© LRP Publications