A deadly accident caused by illegal and unmonitored mining practices trapped 33 miners in the outskirts of Chongqing on 31 October 2016; after two days of search efforts, the 108-man-strong rescue team only managed to retrieve the bodies of the fallen miners.
The gas explosion shocked the Jinshangou Mine in Yongchuan District, west of the city, around 11:30am on Monday and initially left 35 miners underground. Only two miners made it to the surface later that day.
Ironically, on the day of the explosion, top Chinese leaders were holding a conference in Beijing dedicated to praising the “advanced" work of those carrying out work safety efforts in China. Ma Kai, Vice Premiere of the State Council, said during the conference that, thanks to the consistent effort made by the cadres and workers in the national work safety monitoring institutions, work safety conditions across the country have been improving, and new methods have been working well.
Yang Huanning, Director of the State Administration of Work Safety was attending the Monday commending conference in Beijing, but had to rushed to the explosion site that very evening to lead the search and rescue team, said a Chinese government website. The Chongqing Municipal government and national mining authority immediately suspended all local coal mine productions, said BJNews.
Use of outdated equipments, illegal detonation and the mining beyond the appropriate depth are the direct causes of the tragedy, while failed compliance with work safety standards and intentional evasion of supervision contributed to the accident, according to a report done by the Work Safety Commission of the State Council.
In Chongqing, a government working group was set up after rescue effort failed. Yang and his counterparts from the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Chongqing Municipal Government, and the Supreme People's Procuratorate are leading the investigation.
CLB’s Work Accident Map has recorded 48 incidents in the mining industry in the first 11 months of 2016, and the Chongqing tragedy is the most deadly. According to a NetEase report, 5,493 people died in 18,302 mining industry accidents in China last year.
Coal mines are also a major contributor to pneumoconiosis, or "black lung" disease, a deadly condition caused by prolonged exposure to dust particles. According to government statistics, pneumoconiosis is the most common occupational disease in China. Despite that, workers who seek compensation or make calls for improving working conditions are often targeted by the authorities.