MAC/20: Mines and Communities

New CLB Research Report on Coal Mine Safety Management in China

Published by MAC on 2006-03-16

New CLB Research Report on Coal Mine Safety Management in China

by China Labour Bulletin (Hong Kong)

16th March 2006

China's central government carried out an unprecedented review and revamping of coal mine safety regulations in 2005, in which it raised the standards required of national work safety supervisory bodies, closed mines around the country that did not have adequate safety provision, required government officials who had invested in coal mines to sell their holdings, and punished officials and mine owners found responsible for major mining accidents.

Despite these efforts, accidents in China's coal mines were again the focus of the media throughout 2005. The number of coal mine accidents in which 10 people or more died rose by 70.6 percent in China in 2005, compared with the previous year, and the total number of those who died in these accidents jumped by 253 percent. Accidents in which 30 people or more died rose by 57.1 percent and the total number of those who died leaped by 97.3 percent. The facts clearly show that government measures have been woefully inadequate. What are the reasons for this?

In a new report on China's coal mining safety management policies, CLB points out that a serious conflict has arisen between the voracious market demand for coal and the effective implementation of government reforms aimed at improving coal mine safety. By simply closing unsafe coal mines when the market demand for coal remains high, the government in effect ensures that the remaining mines will end up operating at well above their safe production capacity, which in turn leads to fresh mining disasters. In other words, government policy is caught in a vicious cycle of its own making. Another fundamental problem is the widespread collusion between local government officials and mine owners, which further hinders mine safety policy implementation.

In this report, CLB addresses the mine safety problem from a new angle – the value of the coal miner's life – and investigates what should be the real basis of coal mine safety management policies. CLB believes that the main weakness in current government policies on coal mine safety is that they place insufficient value on miners' lives. What is required is an effective workers' organisation – either miners' health and safety committees, or active trade unions in the mines – which would break down, from the inside, the 'fortress mentality' that officials and mine owners have set up to protect their own interests.

The report is laid out in three parts. In the first, we analyse the data on coal mine accidents in China and give a summary of the central government's policies and measures to prevent coal mine accidents. The second part considers the reasons why government policies have failed, starting from the economic and social realities in China today. The third section looks at China's coal mining accidents from a workers' rights point of view and emphasizes the need for coal miners to play an active role in monitoring their own safety underground. Lastly, CLB provides a series of recommendations on how to reduce and halt accidents in the country's coal mines.

The report is currently being translated into English.

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