/ 25 February 2011

China says over 2 400 dead in coal mines in 2010

A total of 2 433 people died in coal mine accidents in China last year, a senior work safety official said on Friday, vowing to beef up safety in the nation’s notoriously dangerous collieries.

The death toll last year was 198 lower than in 2009, Huang Yi, chief engineer and spokesperson for the State Administration of Work Safety, told reporters — but the total still means more than six people are killed in mines each day on average.

China’s mines are known for being among the deadliest in the world because of lax regulation, corruption and inefficiency.

Labour rights groups have long maintained the actual death toll is likely much higher than shown in official data, partly because of the under-reporting of accidents as mine bosses seek to limit their economic losses.

“The safety support abilities at coal mines are still not strong and foundations for safe production are quite weak at many small coal mines,” Huang said.

Fatalities at Chinese coal mines peaked in 2002 when 6 995 deaths were recorded, sparking efforts by the government to boost safety standards.

Safety systems
In March last year, a flood at the vast, unfinished Wangjialing mine in the northern province of Shanxi left 153 workers trapped underground, but 115 were recovered alive in a rare rescue success for the industry.

In its latest campaign to increase safety standards, the government last year issued a policy that required six kinds of safety systems, including rescue facilities, to be installed in all coal mines within three years.

Huang said work safety authorities were screening producers to manufacture equipment such as rescue capsules and were selecting certain mines for a trial programme before rolling the systems out nationwide.

The dramatic rescue of 33 miners trapped for more than two months in Chile using a rescue capsule captivated the world — and highlighted the safety shortcomings of China’s mines.

China relies on coal-generated power for about 70% of its electricity needs and safety concerns are widely ignored as the country tries to satisfy surging demand for the fuel.

In July, Premier Wen Jiabao ordered mining bosses to work side-by-side with miners in the pits as a way of ensuring that companies more closely observe safety rules. – AFP