China Economic Review: Blasts from the past

China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following article. Copyright remains with the original publisher

Friday, August 14, 2015

With officially confirmed deaths in Tianjin having climbed to 50 after the massive explosions that ravaged the city this week, I got curious about how common - and how deadly - workplace explosions are in China. Thankfully, the Hong Kong-based NGO China Labour Bulletin keeps track of such things as part of their Work Accident Map, an excellent companion to their oft-cited Strike Map.

Starting from December of last year, there have been 29 workplace explosions reported by mainland Chinese media; I tallied a total of 134 deaths based on those reports' headlines. (I should note that I've also raised the Tianjin figure from its initial headline estimate of 17 deaths.) Deaths resulting from incidents during the period averaged just above 4.6, which highlights how large even the official, government-produced figure for Tianjin already is.

But it's worth noting that numbers from initial reports like the ones cited here don't tell the whole story, and previous revisions to large-scale accidents suggest that the upward revisions we see in the coming weeks for Tianjin's death count could later be raised dramatically. As the Bulletin has pointed out, an explosion at the Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Plating facility on August 2, 2014 was initially reported to have killed 75 and inured 185. In the course of the following month, those figures changed to 97 and 163, respectively, with the former becoming the official death toll. However, another 49 victims later died, and the figure rose to 146 in a follow-up dispatch published four months later by state news organization Xinhua.

It remains to be seen how officials will handle the now politically sensitive matter of the Tianjin blasts' official death toll, particularly in light of the potential for toxic chemicals released into the environment by the explosions to have a long-term impact on survivors' health and well-being. Whatever the figure, the scale of explosions witnessed in videos that have spread through the mainland's social media platforms could fuel suspicions that the real number killed was far greater. ♦

Author: Hudson Lockett (@KangHexin)

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