Coal mine accidents, deaths reportedly down by about 20 percent in 2009

China’s coal mine safety watchdog, the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety (SACMS), reported on 19 January that both the number of accidents and deaths in the country’s coal mines fell by around 20 percent last year.

The number of deaths decreased from 3,215 in 2008 to 2,631 in 2009. And the number of accidents fell by 338 to 1,616, Xinhua quoted SACMS director Zhao Tiechui as saying.

However, as the government freely acknowledges, many coal mine accidents and deaths go unreported because it is much more cost effective for coal mine owners to buy-off the families of the bereaved and other miners than risk closure by reporting an accident.

Zhao Tiechui reaffirmed the government’s intention to reduce the number of small coal mines, which it blames for 70 percent of all fatalities in the industry, to less than 10,000 by the end of the year. Closing and merging small-scale mines can only be a stop-gap measure however because as economy picks up again, the demand for coal in China will increase and there will be even greater pressure on the remaining larger mines to meet that demand. Unless these mines introduce additional safety measures and systems to cope with increased production, and crucially put workers’ lives and safety above profit, major accidents such as the Hegang disaster in November, in which 108 miners died, will continue to occur.
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