Professor Doctor Le Van Trinh, head of the National Institute of Labour Protection, said there was still not an office in charge of controlling labour accidents and occupational diseases in rural areas.

"Administrative offices are still ignoring these areas," Trinh said.

The Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs was the only office responsible for monitoring workplace accidents, he said.

Official figures on the number of occupational accidents were not available because fewer than 10 percent of enterprises reported their labour accidents annually, Trinh added.

The National Institute of Labour Protection, therefore, has no other alternative but to rely on hospitals for information about accidents and occupational diseases in rural areas.

By conducting a survey of about 1,000 patients at hospitals throughout the country, the institute found that nearly 66 percent of labourers working in the agriculture sector and craft villages had frequent contact with dust. About 60 percent had regular contact with harmful chemicals.

Job site accidents which resulted in abrasions to hands or feet accounted for nearly 39 percent of all agriculture production injuries. The figure was about 44 percent for craft village accidents.

Labourers suffering from respiratory, skin and gynaecological diseases made up 42 percent, 39 percent and 35 percent, respectively, at agriculture production sites; these figures were 54 percent, 46 percent and 38 percent in craft villages.

A report released by the International Labour Organisation said awareness and knowledge about labour safety and hygiene as well as environment protection among labourers in rural areas was still limited.

The organisation said this lack of awareness was one of the main reasons for the rising number of labour accidents and occupational diseases in these areas.

Farmer Nguyen Thi Quit of Thuan Hoa Commune in Hau Giang Province 's Long My District finally went to the Hau Giang General Hospital to receive treatment for her right eye when she could no longer stand the pain.

A leaf brushed across Quit's eye when she was harvesting sugar cane. It took a few days for the pain to surpass her threshold, but by that point the doctors told her it was too late. Her eye was permanently damaged.

In another case, farmer Tran Thanh Quang of Dong Thap Province 's Lai Vung District lost an eye because he used water from a rice field to wash out his eye. The eye became infected and doctors had to remove it out of fear of long-term infection.

Chac Ca Dao Channel, which links Chau Thanh District in An Giang Province with Rach Gia City in Kien Giang Province, has been dubbed by many as a ‘crippled' channel; dozens of labourers working at brick kilns along the channel have suffered damage to their fingers, legs and feet in workplace accidents.

Another survey found an increasing number of women suffering from gynaecological diseases in the Cuu Long ( Mekong ) Delta.

More than 17,300 women in Vinh Long Province have suffered from gynaecological problems since early this year, an increase of 4,000 cases compared with last year's figure.

In Hau Giang Province and Can Tho City, these figures were 12,413 and 24,000 women, respectively.

Doctor Tran Thi Lai, head of the Hau Giang Province 's Population and Family Planning branch, attributed the trend to limited awareness among the women, and the shortage of clean water and hygienic living conditions.

Lai said many women were ashamed and had never visited the doctor for an annual gynaecological exam even though many were married and already had children.

Trinh said agriculture was one of the sectors that exposed workers to dangerous and harmful factors that adversely impacted their heath. The use of dangerous agriculture machines and tools, lack of control over agricultural chemicals and difficult conditions for work-related health care services were the source of many of the problems.

He said legal documents concerning labour accidents and occupational diseases in rural areas had yet to be completed. The problem was compounded by the shortage of inspectors to assess and supervise labour safety and hygiene standards nationwide.

There are currently only 600 inspectors working in this area./.