Shanxi coal mine explosion leaves 15 dead and nine injured

A gas explosion at a coal mine in the northern Chinese province of Shanxi on the afternoon of 18 November killed 15 miners and injured another nine, China’s official media reported today.

There were 35 miners working underground at the mine in Pingyao county at the time of the explosion and all have been accounted for. Rescue work has been concluded and the cause of the accident is now under investigation.

Media reports today claimed the mine operator had been “blinded by greed” (利欲熏心) and exceeded numerous safety protocols in expanding the mine without ensuring proper ventilation, leading to the build-up of gas in the mine shaft.

It was the twelfth coal mine accident in Shanxi, China’s traditional coal heartland, recorded on CLB’s Work Accident Map so far this year, compared with seven accidents in the province last year, four in 2017 and four in 2016.

Mine safety in Shanxi improved considerably after the government closed down hundreds of small mines and restructured the industry in the late 2000s. However, it appears that safety standards may be slipping again. In the first five months of this year, the provincial authorities ordered 82 coal mines to close or halt production after uncovering 32,612 safety violations during 2,167 inspections from January to May. Fines totalling 61 million yuan were imposed.

In China as a whole, however, coal mine accidents and deaths continue to fall. There were 117 coal mine deaths in the first half of the year, compared with 333 during the whole of 2018. Last year was the first time China had recorded fewer than 0.1 deaths per million tons of coal produced, but as recent accidents shows, China still has a long way to go, not only in terms of accident prevention but in dealing with legacy issues such as the hundreds of thousands of former miners suffering from pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung disease.

Just last week, for example, more than 100 workers with pneumoconiosis from ten different provinces arrived in Haikou, the provincial capital of Hainan, to demand a formal diagnosis of their occupational disease, contracted while working in the province.

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