Safety is the most important factor in coal mining, yet we are constantly bombarded with news of serious accidents in our coal mines, and this is having a negative influence on the peoples morale. Last year (2000), there were 5,786 fatalities in Chinas coal mines. Of these, 444 accidents involved the deaths of at least three people and 75 of the accidents led to the deaths of ten or more people. The fatality rate per million tonnes of mined coal is as follows:
State-owned Key Mines: 1.901
Local State-owned Mines: 4.404
Township and Village Mines: 17.06
The arrival of the new millennium has certainly not heralded a reduction in accidents. From January to March this year (2001), 861 people died in coal mines, an increase of 180 over the same period last year. These accidents are occurring in all types of mines. On April 21, 48 miners died in a huge gas explosion in a Hancheng city mine (text link to Hancheng mine file) in Shaanxi province. This is an unacceptable and woefully wrong waste of life.
This grim situation leads us to search for underlying causes. There are many problems, including natural conditions, management methods and an underlying negative approach to coal mining in general. This includes the vital dilemma of an intolerably insufficient investment in safety.
Safety in coal mining must be guaranteed by concrete and appropriate methods. According to the relevant personnel at the China Coal Miners Protection Association (zhong mei laodong baohu xuehui), gas is responsible for 50% of all coal mining fatalities. In order to guard against disasters associated with gas, the problem needs to be examined from different angles including ventilation, exhaust functions, monitoring and scientific research in order to guarantee safety.
Beginning in 1980, the State Economic Committee allocated an annual Rmb 80 million to the Ministry of Coal Industry. After the China Coal Mining Company (zhongguo tong pei meikuang zong gongsi) was established in 1988, this cash allocation was abolished. The maintenance rate for companies affiliated to the national enterprise has since been Rmb 0.5 per ton of coal extracted, making a total figure of approximately Rmb 50 million per year.
In 1992, under the guidance of Zhu Rongji, Zou Jiahua and other national leaders, the State Bureau of Commodity Prices released a document agreeing to a co-ordinated and planned increase in the price of coal by Rmb one per tonne, the increased revenue to be allocated to gas and dust prevention measures. As a result of this support, steps were taken in 86 mines where serious gas-related disasters had taken place including improvements in ventilation, monitoring and other effective measures. Consequently, gas-related accidents in state-owned key mines were reduced. But in 1993, following the expansion of the autonomy of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) the Ministry of Coal Industry no longer controlled safety funds and the question arose of whether or not the total amount of safety-related funds handed over by the enterprises to the coal departments could adequately cover safety measures. Moreover, the last few years have seen an excess of coal production, resulting in a weakened coal market. This has left some enterprises in difficulties and the problem of safety investment has become increasingly urgent. In fact it has already reached a point where it is simply insufficient.
During the Ninth Five Year Plan, the one tunnel three preventions (yi tong san fang) strategy was supposed to oversee a total investment of Rmb 4.2 billion (in safety - Ed.) at an average of Rmb 840 million per year. In fact, the actual amount invested was only Rmb 400 million per year or less than half. According to our understanding of the situation, many shafts do not have sufficient ventilation and monitoring facilities. Today, much of the safety equipment in use is already too old to be effective and needs replacing. Yet it is still in operation. A lack of funds is also preventing the tackling of these problems in a scientific manner.
Insufficient investment in safety and a lack of technical safety guarantees are questions we must take very seriously.
Chang Binlin, Li Chunxia
(Translated from China Coal 17/05/01)