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Deconstructing deadly details from China's coal mine safety statistics

Statistics released in the first week of the new year suggest that there was a slight but significant improvement in coal mine safety in China in 2005, but deconstructuring the aggregate figures in that report shows that bigger disasters happened more frequently and killed two to three as many people compared with the previous year.  

China Labour Bulletin once again calls on the Chinese authorities to reform the current work safety supervision system and allow miners themselves to organize their own work safety teams and take part directly in safety supervision.  

The State Administration of Work Safety announced on 4 January that 5,986 miners died in 3,341 accidents in 2005, a decrease of 8.2 percent compared with 2004.  

Table 1: Coal mine accidents and deaths in China

Year

Total number of coal mine accidents

Total number of deaths

2000

2,863

5,798

2001

3,082

5,670

2002

4,344

6,995

2003

4,143

6,434

2004

3,639

6,027

2005

3,341

5,986

Source: State Administration of Work Safety

From Table 1, the total number of coal mine accidents and the total number of deaths seem to be decreasing since 2002. Assuming the figures are a true account of the past 12 to 36 months, they could be misleading in suggesting an improvement.

Table 2: Breakdown of China's major coal mine accidents and deaths per accident

Year

Number of coal mine accidents causing 10-29  deaths

Number of deaths in coal mine accidents causing 10- 29 deaths

Number of coal mine accidents causing more than 30 deaths

Number of deaths in coal mine accidents causing more than 30 deaths

2001

49

1015

8

373

2002

47

750

9

417

2003

44

701

7

360

2004

34

492

7

487

2005

58

1739

11

961

Source: State Administration of Work Safety

From Table 2, it can be seen that the number of large-scale coal mine disasters resulting in more than 10 deaths has in fact increased dramatically in 2005 compared with previous years. The number of coal mine accidents resulting in 10-29 deaths increased by 71 percent in 2005 and the number of deaths in these accidents increased by 253 percent.

The number of coal mine accidents resulting in more than 30 deaths climbed 57 percent and the number of deaths in these accidents leaped by 97 percent over the previous year.

The sharp increases were seen despite year-long efforts by the central government to reduce the number, frequency and severity of accidents. Measures taken during the year included elevating of the State Administration of Work Safety to ministry level and renaming it, the General Administration of Work Safety in March; issuing central government orders to all government officials to withdraw their personal investment in coal mines; and ordering the closure of more than 12,000 small mines across the country.

The overall decline in the total number of accidents and deaths compared with 2004 could be due to the fact that the central government ordered local government officials to crackdown small mines in their areas. At the same time, the policy initiatives have done nothing to help reduce the number of large-scale coal mine disasters and the number of deaths in such accidents.

See our previous commentary: More disasters, more meetings and more crackdowns

6 January 2006

China Labour Bulletin