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China's coal mines still risky

By Chen Xin and Zhi Yun  (China Daily)

09:49, August 25, 2012

Coal mining in China remains a high-risk industry, but authorities will make greater efforts to guarantee production safety and close more small mines, said a senior work safety official.

"China’s coal mines are vulnerable to natural disasters and other dangers such as gas, geostatic pressure and terrestrial heat, and half of them have high levels of gas," State Administration of Work Safety spokesman Huang Yi said at a news conference on Friday.

"Although the country’s death rate for producing 1 million tons of coal has declined to 0.35, it's still 10 times the rate in the United States," he said. "So China’s coal mining industry is still a high-risk one."

But Huang said the industry has made a lot of progress in terms of the number of accidents and fatalities, with both seeing declines over the past nine years.

In 2002, there were around 4,300 accidents that led to the deaths of nearly 7,000 people; while in 2011, the number of accidents fell to 1,200 and 1,970 people were killed, according to Huang.

According to data released by the administration, as of Monday, 512 coal mine accidents occurred this year, down 33.5 percent compared with the same period in 2011. These accidents claimed a total of 832 lives, a 32 percent year-on-year decrease.

The official said the administration will continue to give priority to addressing problems at small coal mines.

More than 85 percent of China’s 12,000 coal mines are small ones. They account for one-third of the country’s total output but cause two-thirds of the coal mine accidents that lead to fatalities, he said.

"We set a target of shutting 625 small coal mines nationwide this year, and we will strive to close more," he said.

"Only by closing a certain proportion of small mines can the quality of the whole coal mining industry be improved."

"The sound development of the industry should not be based on the growth of small mines. We should develop a more modern and mechanized industry," said the official.

Huang pointed out that the current situation of economic slowdown and coal oversupply provided an opportunity to adjust the coal mining industry.

"Some small coal mines have suspended production or restricted their output. It’s a good time to close or integrate them," he said.

But at the same time, he warned that some small mines may invest less in work safety or delay the improvement of work safety facilities as they are experiencing tough times.

To further improve safety in the industry, Huang said local work safety watchdogs are strengthening supervision of work safety facilities underground and will ensure that all standards are met before the facilities are put into use.

Huang said his organization is also pushing all coal mines to build underground refuges such as mobile lifesaving compartments and fixed refuge chambers in order to guarantee workers’ safety.

Cao Zongli, deputy director of the administration’s policy and regulation department, said it’s very hard to bring an end to accidents in small coal mines because some of these mine owners pay more heed to profits than miners’ lives. Therefore, they may restart production even if their mines are closed by local authorities.

Some local governments have also failed to close or reorganize illegal small coal mines in a timely manner, indirectly leading to accidents, he said.

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