Rhinitis and other respiratory diseases, which are mainly attributed to environmental pollution, were among the most common diseases.

The study blamed the situation on the failure to severely punish companies that have polluted workplaces.

Do Tran Hai of the National Institute of Labour Protection said most small and medium-sized enterprises do not care to improve their facilities to improve the environment and eliminate workplace accidents.

Workplace accidents

The number of fatal workplace accidents increases by 16 per cent every year.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Labour, Invalid and Social Affairs, last year the country lost VND39 billion (US$2 million) due to workplace accidents plus damage of VND2.7 billion to assets.

While 181 workers died in 2008, only in two cases were their employers prosecuted for negligence of regulations. The number of inspectors is a limiting factor in preventing violations – while around 1,000 are required considering the size of the workforce, there are only 500 serving inspectors.

As a result, many companies get away with not reporting and investigating workplace accidents. Only 3-5 per cent report accidents.

The ministry said obsolete facilities were the main cause of accidents: Only around 8 per cent of businesses use advanced technologies while and 75 per cent use medium to poor facilities.

The five-year National Programme on Preventing Workplace Accidents and Industrial Diseases that ends this year has, however, helped reduced serious workplace accidents to 5 per cent, especially in the electricity and construction industries.

The programme helps all injured workers get treatment and provides training in labour safety for 80 percent of all workers in hazardous industries.

But Do Thi Thu Nguyet, deputy head of the Ministry of Labour, Invalid and Social Affairs' Labour Safety Department, said the programme should be implemented in a better manner.

The ministry is setting targets to monitor and improve working conditions under the programme in the 2011 – 15 period, she said, adding there would be more regular inspections of the construction and mining sectors — VNS