New rules

On March 24 2015 the State Administration of Work Safety – the highest authority in China for work safety and prevention and control of occupational health hazards – issued the Eight Rules on Control and Prevention of Occupational Health Hazards of Enterprises. The rules include eight 'musts' and eight 'must nots'. In particular, enterprises:

  • must establish a responsibility system for the prevention and control of occupational health hazards and must not engage in operations in breach of laws or regulations without defining responsibilities;
  • must ensure that the workplace meets relevant occupational health requirements and must not allow employees to work in an environment which does not meet these standards;
  • must set up effective occupational disease protection facilities and must not fail to deploy or use such facilities;
  • must provide employees with labour protection supplies in compliance with occupational health standards and must not distribute fake, counterfeit or poor-quality products;
  • must post warning signs and notification cards in the workplace and at employee workstations, and must not conceal any information on occupational health hazards;
  • must conduct regular inspections of occupational health hazards and must not fabricate false records or skip any items of the inspection;
  • must provide employees with occupational health training and must not allow employees to assume their duties without undergoing such training and completing it to a required standard (ie, gaining competence as a result of the training); and
  • must subject employees to occupational health examinations and keep records of such examinations, and must not fail to conduct examinations or keep relevant records.

Liabilities

The rules are not enforceable administrative regulations, but rather summarise the key responsibilities of enterprises pursuant to the Law on the Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases and its implementing rules and regulations. Breach of the rules will expose enterprises to legal liabilities under the relevant laws and regulations.

For example, according to the second point above, enterprises must ensure that the workplace meets relevant occupational health requirements and must not allow employees to work in an environment that does not meet these standards. If an enterprise does not comply with these rules – leading to an increase in the level of occupational health hazard which surpasses acceptable thresholds – Article 73(1) of the Law on the Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases provides that the competent work safety administrative authority may issue a warning or order the enterprise to rectify the situation within a specified timeframe. If the enterprise fails to do so, it may be subjected to penalties ranging from Rmb50,000 to Rmb200,000. In serious cases, the enterprise can be ordered to cease any operations which give rise to occupational health hazards or even cease all business entirely.

The abovementioned legal liabilities also apply where an enterprise fails to post warning signs and notification cards in the workplace. Detailed provisions on the correct posting of warning signs and notification cards are contained in Article 25 of the Law on the Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases, the Regulations on Supervision of Occupational Health Situations in the Workplace and the Rules on Notification of Occupational Health Hazards and Warning Signs.

Comment

The Eight Rules on Control and Prevention of Occupational Health Hazards of Enterprises provide only basic guidelines; enterprises should refer to specific laws and regulations for details on how to implement these responsibilities. However, they demonstrate the government's commitment to the prevention and control of occupational health hazards. According to the Law on the Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases, the competent work safety administrative authority is entitled to enter an enterprise's place of business to investigate working conditions and collect evidence. Therefore, the items stipulated in the new rules are expected to be the focus of any inspection by the authority.

According to the Law on the Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases, if a violation of the law leads to major occupational diseases, accidents or other serious consequences, the enterprise may be subject to severe penalties. In addition, supervisors or other directly responsible personnel can be subject to criminal liabilities. Therefore, enterprises doing business in China – especially manufacturing enterprises – should carefully ensure the prevention and control of occupational health hazards and fulfil their responsibilities under the relevant laws and regulations. In particular, the core requirements of the Eight Rules on Control and Prevention of Occupational Health Hazards of Enterprises must be satisfied.

For further information on this topic please contact Jeanette Yu or Sufi Shang at CMS, China by telephone (+86 21 62 89 07 31) or email (jeanette.yu@cmslegal.cn or sufi.shang@cmslegal.cn). The CMS, China website can be accessed at www.cmslegal.cn.

This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.