MAC: Mines and Communities

China and US coal disasters

Published by MAC on 2006-01-07

China and US coal disasters

7th January 2006

Two very different nations: similar attrition from coal

The latest official Chinese statistics on coal mine accidents and deaths appear to show a modest decrease since 2002. However, as pointed out by China Labour Bulletin, the number of those killed in the worst disasters has not only increased, but "major accidents" have claimed two to three times as many mineworkers' lives.

China is unanimously regarded as the worst violator of Occupational Health and Safety in mining. But, by savage coincidence, just two days before these statistics were released, the US, generally considered to enjoy the safest minework record, suffered its most serious "accident" in nearly five years.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has launched an investigation into the deaths of workers at the non-unionised Sago mine, while Congressional Democrats are calling for hearings to examine mine safety, as well as the Bush Administration's enforcement of mine regulations. Next year's MSHA budget has been cut by $4.9 million in real-dollar terms, while MSHA staffing has been reduced by 170 positions since 2001.

The U.S. NGO, American Rights At Work, claims that the disaster shows "just how dangerous the mining industry continues to be...It is no coincidence that the Sago mine produced safety infractions at several times the industry norm, and that it is a non-union mine, where workers did not enjoy the job protection to speak out. Concerns about safety and health risks are one of the most compelling reasons why workers seek unions on the job in the first place."

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