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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 18:17, March 04, 2005
China strives to guarantee coal mine safety
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China's leading coal producing province of Shanxi, in the north of the country, has required officials of local coal mines to inspect shafts to find hidden safety risks and solve problems.

Regulations issued by the Shanxi Provincial Coal Industrial Bureau recently stipulate that top officials of coal mines must make three inspection tours in shafts each month, deputy officials who are in charge of production, safety, use of mining equipment and technologies must go down to the shaft at least four times and deputy engineers visit shafts at least five times a month.

Lower ranking officials are required to inspect shafts five to 10 times each month according to their occupational posts.

Jin Shanzhong, vice governor of Shanxi, said that the move is aimed at uncovering safety risks in coal mines and improving officials' and miners' awareness of safety, thus reducing accidents.

To prevent coal mines from operating beyond their production capacity and for the purpose of reducing accidents and casualties, the province has demanded local coal mines to limit the number of miners working underground at one time.

Shanxi is just one of the Chinese provinces that have intensified measures to improve coal mine safety following an alarming number of major mining accidents that have claimed hundreds of lives in China over the past several months.

Last October, a coal mine blast killed 148 miners at the Daping Colliery in central China's Henan Province. Two months later, a similar accident claimed 166 lives in Tongchun, a city in northwest China's Shaanxi Province. Last month, a coal mine gas explosion at the Sunjiawan coal mine in Fuxin in northeast China's Liaoning Province killed 214.

Investigation into the Daping explosion found 24 people responsible for the tragedy including Shi Jichuan, vice governor of Henan Province, according to a State Council meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao in January. Prosecutors from Henan Province said the accident "could have been prevented if the officials involved had performed their duty."

Although the cause of the Sunjiawan coal mine blast is still under investigation, a State Council meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao on Feb. 23 suspended Liu Guoqiang, vice governor of Liaoning, who is responsible for industry and work safety.

"Those responsible for the accident will be punished once the cause of the disaster is found," according to a statement released following the meeting, which was convened to work on measures to improve work safety in coal mines.

In order to intensify efforts in work safety supervision, the State Council will devote 3 billion yuan (360 million US dollars) to technological renovation on work safety, gas management in particular, at state-owned major coal mines.

To prevent major gas accidents, the government will also send safety supervision teams to 45 major coal mines with serious gas problems and invite colliery safety experts to evaluate safety situations in coal mines with potential danger and formulate specific prevention measures.

China's rising demand for fuel has driven up coal prices as well as some mine owners' lust for profits. Overload has become a major approach for output growth in the coal industry in China, the world's biggest coal consumer and producer.

According to the State Administration of Work Safety, which has been now promoted to the General Administration of Work Safety, around one-third of China's state-owned coal mines are overloaded and accident-prone.

In 2003, the average coal miner in China produced 321 tons of coal a year, only 2.2 percent of that of the United States and 8.1 percent that of South Africa. The death rate for every 100 tons of coal, however, is 100 times of that of the US and 30 times that of South Africa.

Repeated disasters have exposed many management loopholes in Chinese coal mines, including poor safety measures, old equipment and lax safety procedures.

In response, China regroup its coal mining industry into 13 conglomerates to improve safety and efficiency, as small mines, with less capital and lower production capacity, are more prone to accidents.

At the call of the central government, Shanxi has announced plans to merge small mines into bigger ones in the coming three to five years.

Small mines run by villages or townships that suffer major accidents (any claiming more than three lives) will lose its mining rights, and the mines will be auctioned by the Shanxi provincial government.

Shanxi has closed more than 6,000 small mines over the past five years, and the province's coal mines are expected to be cut from the 3,800 to approximately 2,000 in five years. The province will begin this year to phase out small mines with annual production below 90,000 tons and will no longer approve new mines that produce less than 300,000 tons a year.

The province will also require small coal mines to upgrade their mining technology and increase input for safety purpose. To protect miners' rights and interests, Shanxi has tripled the compensation for miners who die in mine accidents, from former average 30,000 to 80,000 yuan (3,600 to 9,600 US dollars) to 200,000 yuan (24,000 US dollars).

The move is aimed at putting coal mine owners on guard against further tragedies, said Gong Anku, director of the Shanxi Provincial Bureau for Supervising Coal Mine Safety.

Gong said human beings are the key factors behind safety in coal mines and it is an important method to achieve coal mine safety by improving workers' overall quality.

Currently, a training program targeting managerial personnel, legal persons of coal mine firms, technical workers, personnel involving special jobs and ordinary miners is going smoothly in Linfen in the province. Trainees will be allowed to take their posts only after being certified, Gong said.

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