Coal mine fatalities up in 1st quarter

08:25, May 20, 2010      

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Miners wait outside a colliery for information about their colleagues trapped underground after a blast in Shanxi province on Wednesday morning. At least 10 people were confirmed dead and one missing after the mishap on Tuesday, local authorities said. Zhan Yan / Xinhua

The strong economic recovery has partly pushed up the death toll from coal mine accidents in the country in the first quarter of the year, a senior work safety administrator has said.

Huang Yi, spokesman for the State Administration of Work Safety, told China Daily that fatalities resulting from coal mine disasters were 592 in the first three months of this year, up from 509 a year ago.

The jump is in sharp contrast to the previous downward trend in the number of deaths from coal mine accidents, which had been falling since 2003.

"It's partly because the economy has gone back up," Huang said.

"Businesses have been speeding up construction or trying to keep up with production schedules in industries such as coal mining and building."

China's economy grew by 11.9 percent in the first quarter of the year, while domestic output of coal, the major source of energy, rose 28.1 percent year-on-year, National Bureau of Statistics figures showed.

When growth was sluggish amid the global economic crisis, coal output in the first quarter of last year saw a year-on-year rise of only 6.33 percent.

But as of March 1 this year, the number of coal mines under construction or renovation hit 7,939, official figures showed.

Of four accidents this year involving the deaths of more than 30 miners, three occurred in such mines, Huang said.

On March 28, 261 miners were trying to make up for construction delays when underground flooding hit Wangjialing mine in Shanxi province. The mine was set to produce coal by October. The disaster left 38 dead, with 115 others trapped for up to eight days before being rescued.

Huang said failures by mines and local supervisory bodies to ensure safe work also contributed to the rise in accidents.

"In some cases, safety supervisors even fled the accident scene along with the mine owners," said Huang, referring to the blast at a small coal mine in Yichuan county of Henan province on March 31, in which 44 were killed.

The mine was operating illegally amid a merger and technical upgrade, even as the province was restructuring the industry to improve safety conditions at small mines.

State-owned enterprises regulated by the central government, whose mines are usually big, have also not been free of disasters this year.

Wangjialing coal mine and Luotuoshan coal mine in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, where fatal accidents happened in March, are both owned by such enterprises.

Some local governments are reluctant to supervise mines like Wangjialing and created loopholes in supervision, Huang said.

Faced with the jump in accidents, the central government ordered in early April month-long safety checks nationwide.

The campaign saw the death toll from accidents at factories, mines and other business entities dropping by about 7.2 percent in the first four months from a year ago, Huang said.

He hoped the overall death toll from coal mine accidents this year falls below last year's level, which stood at 2,631.

Source: China Daily
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