MAC: Mines and Communities

Chinese government official criticizes country's coal mine safety record

Published by MAC on 2010-05-29
Source: China Labour Bulletin, China Daily (2010-05-10)

Why does China have the world's worst safety record with regard to coal mining? (See http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=10021 & many previous articles)

According to a spokesperson for the State Administration of Work Safety, it is a lack of political will, leading to underfunding and neglect (despite the expansion of the coal sector, particularly the state coal sector).

The largest fine for health & safety breaches is two million yuan (£200,000). However, not a single coal mine has ever incurred such a heavy fine for safety violations, and neither has a single official been sacked for allowing unlicensed mines to operate within their area.

Chinese government official criticizes country's coal mine safety record

China Labour Bulletin

10 May 2010

In a frank and honest assessment of China's coal mine safety record, a senior government official has admitted that enforcement of safety laws, investment in coal mine safety and worker training are all woefully inadequate.

The number of accidents and fatalities has steadily declined over the last five years but China's mines remain the world's deadliest. If it is to reduce accidents further, the country needs to address its production-driven development model as well as fundamental safety issues, said Huang Yi, spokesman for the State Administration of Work Safety.

Huang pointed out that one third of all the safety equipment at key state-owned mines, which are now playing an increasingly important role in coal production since the re-nationalization of small private mines in Shanxi last year, is obsolete and in need of replacement.

The government currently allocates around three billion yuan each year to upgrading mine safety but significantly more funds are needed, Huang said in an interview with the Chinese media published on 10 May.

Huang also stressed that migrant workers, who currently make up about half of China's 5.5 million coal miners, do not get proper training and are often completely unaware of the laws and regulations related to coal mine safety. This combined with the fact that migrant mine workers are usually paid by piece rate means that their primary concern, sometimes their only concern, is coal extraction, with the attendant dangers being largely ignored.

"Migrant workers are both perpetrators and victims of accidents," Huang said.

The spokesman also pointed out that while China has strict laws and regulations governing coal mine safety; these laws are rarely if ever implemented. For example, Huang said, the heaviest fine specified by law is two million yuan. However, not a single coal mine in China has ever incurred such a heavy fine for safety violations, neither has a single official been sacked for allowing unlicensed mines to operate in their jurisdiction.

As CLB pointed out in its research report, Bone and Blood: The Price of Coal in China (http://www.clb.org.hk/en/files/File/bone_and_blood.pdf), the reason for this lack of legal enforcement and official accountability is the widespread collusion between mine owners and local government officials, many of whom have a direct or indirect economic interest in the mines they are supposed to be monitoring and supervising.

Collusion between government officials and mine operators is probably the main obstacle to improvements in mine safety, and there is little evidence thus far that re-nationalizing small and medium-sized mines has helped resolve the issue. Indeed, it could be argued that by giving state-owned mines more economic power, they can use that power to more effectively buy off and influence local government officials.


Lax laws, lack of funds make China's mines deadliest

By YAN JIE

China Daily

10 May 2010

BEIJING - The lax enforcement of safety laws, coupled with inadequate investment in equipment, are partly to blame for China having the world's most deadly coal mines, a senior safety official has said.

China's low efficiency in the use of coal, the country's main source of energy, to feed its booming economy makes it necessary to mine more of it.

This creates the potential for more safety risks and underlines the paramount importance of preventing further mining accidents, Huang Yi, spokesman for the State Administration of Work Safety, said in an interview with the Beijing-based Economic Observer.

Safety rules made by the central government have not been carried out at every mine in the country and, in some cases, miners lack the most rudimentary knowledge of these rules, let alone the relevant laws, he said.

For instance, the heaviest fine specified by the national safety laws amounts to 2 million yuan ($300,000). However, not a single coal mine in China has ever incurred such a heavy fine for safety violations, Huang said.

"Fines of 800,000 yuan or 1 million yuan, which have been seen in some areas, are regarded as harsh enough," he said.

Moreover, almost no local government officials have been sacked for unlicensed mines illegally operating in their jurisdiction, an example of the way in which the relevant laws are loosely enforced.

Huang also admitted that Chinese coal mines are poorly equipped to protect miners' lives.

"A few years ago, there was a 70 billion yuan shortfall in the funds available to improve safety at State-owned coal mines," he said.

The deficit was reduced slightly over the past few years, since the central government began to allocate an annual 3 billion yuan to help the mines invest in improving safety conditions.

"But more funds are needed," he added, "as one-third of the equipment at key State-owned mines needs to be replaced."

"China has become a country with the world's most deadly mine disasters as a result of lax of enforcement and insufficient investment," Huang said.

The lack of training for migrants who find work in the mines also adds to the potential for mining disasters.

Of the 5.5 million coal miners in China, about half are migrant workers, while almost all those employed at small coal mines come from rural areas.

"Migrant workers are both perpetrators and victims of accidents," said Huang.

In a recent case, 38 miners were killed and another 115 trapped underground at the Wangjialing Coal Mine in Shanxi province on March 28. Most of the miners who were caught up in the ordeal are migrant workers from nearby villages or other provinces.

If China wants to substantially cut down on mining accidents, the country needs to address the fundamental issues regarding safety and the backwardness of its development model, Huang said.

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