Safety Measures in China's Mines Haven't Paid Off

Despite a government crack down on illegal mines and an increased emphasis on safety, accidents in China's mines have claimed 3,393 lives in over 2,000 accidents.

Last week's Chengzihe coal mine explosion in China's Heilongjiang province killed 115 miners, leading the Xinhua news agency, China's official news source, to report today that the death toll for 2002 could exceed last year's total of 5,670 deaths.

The news agency quoted Wang Dexue, a deputy commissioner of the State Administration of Work Safety Supervision, as saying that "a risk-taking approach to safety" by some mine managers and supervisors contributed to the death toll, along with poor enforcement, poor training and faulty and outdated equipment.

Investigators blamed poor ventilation and negligence for the explosion in the Chengzihe coal mine on June 27, killing most of the 140 workers who were underground at the time. Xinhua reported a team is still searching for the exact location and source of the fire and the cause of the explosion.

Some 15 miners are still hospitalized with serious injuries, and at least two of them are in comas, according to Xinhua. A government spokesperson, Huang Yi, told the news agency that the government is calling for a nationwide inspection of mines to remove "hidden production dangers."

The government wants to shut down coal mines that fail safety checks, and those that do not discontinue operations could be confiscated and their operators prosecuted. The Chinese government has closed mines in the past, only to find out later they were reopened, often with the knowledge of local government authorities.

"Some mine managers were inclined to think production was more important than safety, another reason for the gas explosion," Huang told Xinhua. He also said that more than half of China's mines are located in areas that have high amounts of natural gas. "Preventing gas explosions should be top of the agenda," he added.

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