China Insists It Is Working to Reduce Mining Fatalities

While progess has been made, "due to a weak foundation of workplace safety, the picture is still pretty grim," government spokesman admits.

Gas explosions in coal mines claimed the lives of nearly 60 miners in four incidents in recent weeks, but China''s State Administration of Work Safety insists it is not slacking in its duties.

Spokesman Huang Yi says the government has closed some 11,000 small, unsafe mines and is holding mine owners and local governments accountable for unsafe working conditions and injuries to employees. The government estimates that there are more than 20,000 small mines still in operation, and half have inadequate safety programs.

China, which has been admitted to the World Trade Organization, portrays itself as a country committed to workplace safety and health, despite its abysmal record.

"Due to a weak foundation of workplace safety, the picture is still pretty grim, and there are still some serious accidents," Huang admits, adding, "It is fair to say that China''s work safety situation has improved."

Two of the explosions occurred in the province of Shanxi, and the government has ordered all small mines shut down in the province for safety inspections. All of the mines where the explosions occurred were operating illegally, having been ordered by the government to close because of their small capacity and poor safety programs and records, a government official says. That same official notes that coal prices are on the rise, "so mine owners turned deaf ears to government owners."

The Xinhua News Agency, China''s official news organization, says at least 12 miners stranded underground in one of the Shanxi accidents had contacted rescuers and are believed to be alive.

by Sandy Smith

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