The Chinese government will take tough measures, including the shutdown of unsafe coal mines, to prevent serious coal mine accidents, a senior production safety supervisor said Thursday.
Zhao Tiechui, vice-director of the State Administration of Production Safety, said at a national telephone conference on coalmine safety that China has still not brought serious coal mine accidents under control.
A total of 309 lives have been lost in China's six worst coal mining disasters so far this year - a quarter more than during the same period last year.
This year's rise in fatalities from major accidents came as the total death toll from all accidents hit 4,150 for the first eight months of 2003.
Of the worst disasters, over 30 people died in one accident.
Systems to safeguard workers in coal mines are facing management problems. Despite many workplace campaigns in recent years, there is still much to be done to make coal mining in China safer, Zhao said.
"Some previously closed illegal mines have resumed production, while state-owned coal mines have accelerated production in excess of their production safety standards," said Zhao.
From January 1 to September 17 this year, the number of "serious" coal mine accidents and deaths they caused increased by 50 percent and 25 percent respectively over the same period last year, said Zhao.
Serious accidents have also begun to occur in some big State-owned coal mines which had been listed as examples of safe workplaces. Small, unlicensed coal mines are still the biggest headache and the key to preventing more accidents and death, Zhao noted.
The numbers of accidents and deaths caused by small coal mines have accounted for more than 70 percent of the total nationwide this year, Zhao added.
He said five categories of coal mines will suspend production for a safety overhaul or simply be closed, including small mines lacking the minimum production safety facilities, state-owned mines with potential safety risks and state-owned coal mines that had experienced accidents claiming more than three lives since July.
The official criticized certain regions for failing to balance regional economic growth with production safety issues and allowing unsafe coal mines to continue production.