The Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association (JPMA) recently described Chinese coal mines as “industrial death traps” claiming “China’s industrial revolution may have brought about spectacular economic growth, but its safety and health records are soaring in an opposite direction”.
A series of tragic coal mine accidents in China last month (September/October)
The country’s bureaucracy can be terribly efficient and single-minded when directives filter down from above but China’s work safety regulator doesn’t detract from the massive effort required to raise health and safety standards in the coal mines.
Director of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), Huang Yi, is quick to admit coal mining remains a high-risk industry in China despite improvement during the last decade.
“We must stay clear-headed all the time and be on alert for coal mine safety,” he said. “Our fatality rate of 35 workers for each 100Mt of China’s coal output is about 10 times the death rate for the United States’ coal sector and 11 times that of Russia.”
“The latest accidents occurred at relatively small mines which contribute one-third of China’s total coal output but account for about 85% of the country’s coal mines. These mines are the biggest source of danger because of poor safety provisions and report two-thirds of all deaths annually in the industry.”
“To help reduce the number of fatalities, SAWS aims to close 625 small coal mines this year. Already production at 374 mines has been suspended in violation of relevant laws and regulations in order to conduct safety overhauls.”
Writing in the JPMA, Dr Amber Mehmood of Aga Khan University Hospital, pointed out China has a unique repertoire of mine types from an industrial growth standpoint.
“It comprises of completely un-mechanised small village pits, bigger scale industrialised township and village enterprises (TVE mines) with a large human workforce, and the large state-owned enterprises (SOE) where machines take over many dangerous tasks from labourers,” she notes.
“It is estimated coal mining accounts for less than 4% of the Chinese workforce, however the fatalities from coal mining injuries are the single most important occupational hazard in China, responsible for about 45% of all industrial fatalities.”
“The social challenge for China’s communist political elite is this. Most miners are typically transient workers from the poorest parts of China, who have no other means of livelihood than working in deadliest jobs in the country.”
“The rural industry where the major Chinese labour force is employed is known to pay low wages in the poorest conditions.”
“It is widely accepted that most of the serious incidents and injuries go unreported in official records, miners are forced to sign a waiver of legal claims and the issue is settled for a small amount of compensation money in the event of any injuries (fatal or non-fatal on the job).”
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