Editorial: Taiwan needs to emerge from workplace hazards

Taiwan has a long history of work-related health issues, but many laborers are still paying the price of losing their health as they are exposed to polluted work environments that are extremely hazardous day in and day out.

The presence of PM2.5 — fine particles measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter — reportedly reached the red alert level in many cities of Taiwan during the 228 Peace Memorial Day holiday, driving a great number of people to wear masks during outings to reduce the harmful effect of the particulates in the air.

If a factory produces any pollution, whether it affects air, water, soil, or underground water, the laborers working in the factory will be the direct victims; and therefore, striving for harmless workplaces is a vital aspect of the labor movement, the Environmental Quality Protection Foundation (EQPF) said.

Internationally, work-related injuries have been an issue drawing much concern. For example, improvement of working environments for laborers has been a goal of the World Health Organization as well as the International Labor Organization.

In Taiwan, the Labor Safety and Sanitation Act has been into effect since 1974 to regulate safety at workplaces.

Despite the existence of the Act and related regulations, cases of injuries and diseases as a result of pollution in the work environments emerged one after another in Taiwan, with the RCA incident being the most notorious case.

A total of 1,395 RCA laborers were diagnosed with cancer after they drank the underground water seriously contaminated by toxic wastes and organic solvents the factory had dumped in the neighborhood of the factory over a long period of time.

The irony is that the Ministry of Labor (MOL) conducted eight labor inspections from 1975 to 1991 and found the factory had violated regulations governing the prevention of organic solvent poisoning, but the ministry only issued letters to RCA asking the company to improve the situation, neglecting its duty to protect laborers.

Besides the Labor Safety and Sanitation Act, Civil Code article 483-1, enacted and promulgated in 1999, also makes it a statutory duty for the employer to care for employee safety and health.

In addition to protection covered by statutes and regulations, laborers should also take the precaution of reporting any abnormalities in their workplaces to local environment protection agencies for self-protection.

Of course, leaving the job and selecting a low-pollution company are also means of self-protection.

For example, in 2007 China promulgated an environment open data policy, systematically listing polluted companies every year. Job seekers can consult the list to prevent themselves from unknowingly becoming victims and accomplices of environmental polluters.

How about Taiwan?

The EQPF suggested that the MOL compile and open data regarding companies punished by administrative codes or penal codes for pollution so that laborers can select a more environment-friendly job and avoid the prospects of suffering work-related harm.

Other government agencies can also set standards for corporate environmental performance under their administrative jurisdictions and then publish them periodically, which will be helpful to the promotion of positive corporate environment and corporate sustainability, the EQPF said.

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