Why the Jixi Mine Blast? – An Interview with a Jixi Coal Miner (2)

(Broadcast on June 22, 2002)

In recent years, the frequency of serious accidents at coalmines is becoming scary in China. Usually, the government shuts down the coalmines concerned for investigation and problem fixing. However, the frequency of coalmine accidents, with the increasing fatalities in each accident, indicates that the government’s efforts are making no progress at all. In this interview, a miner, who has worked for 17 years in the pit at the Chengzihe Coal Mine under by the Jixi Mining Bureau (JMB), talked about the causes of the increase in coalmine accidents. According to him, one of the causes was the lack of proper training for the contract miners.


Not many of the miners are permanent staff nowadays. Most of them are contract miners. Moreover, many of them are not miners at all; they are just paid to do the mining work. For instance, some of the victims in this accident [on June 20] were contract teams from Hengshan. As long as they were willing to work, they were recruited there and came along. A three-day training program was provided before they started to work in the pit. Of course, they had no clue about mine safety. It means that anybody can just come, work and get paid according to the amount of coal extracted. So if you were the contractor, you definitely would want to extract as much coal as possible. It is no surprise that you care about nothing but production, for no production means no income. The subcontractor pushed the miners to work fast, and safety was out of consideration.

Besides, he believed that under the subcontracting system in China’s mining industry, safety responsibilities between the mine owner and the subcontractors were not clear, and so both parties would try to push the responsibilities to each other.


The subcontracting fee includes all expenses in buying. With that fixed budget, they simply make do with it. For example, pillars are required to sustain the roof of the pit, but if they cannot find wood stakes nearby, they ignore that part. Isn’t it dangerous? Well, buying wood stakes means the subcontractor has to spend money and, of course, he would prefer to save it. Therefore, the materials are not enough for making the workplace safe.


So with the example given, if the pit roof really needs the wood stakes for supporting, which side will be paying the bill?


Well, the Mining Bureau is surely not paying. You get paid according to the amount of coal you extract. The logic here is that the subcontractor has undertaken certain coalface, and payment will be made according to the amount of coal produced. For instance, if the subcontractor agrees to extract 30,000 tonnes of coal this month and exceeds this quota, he will get an extra sum of, say, 30,000 yuan. Otherwise, there would be a deduction of 30,000yuan in his payment. It is how it works here.


That means the pit has been subcontracted?


Yes. It is why the accident happened.

He sighed that the profit-oriented work-style sacrificed safety to production.


To conclude, if safety comes first, production will be affected. Those overpower those who are in charge of safety in charge of production, which means safety comes after production. Therefore, accidents occur inevitably. You probably have never gone down a pit. It is impossible to operate without breaking the safety regulations. The quota the Mining Bureau set forces the subcontractors and miners to violate the regulations.

He then quoted some of the serious accidents he has experienced at the Chengzihe Coal Mine.


They all happened at this same mine. In 1962, a gas explosion killed 36 miners. In 1986, 42 miners were killed. In 1987, 12 miners were killed. Some minor accidents happened earlier this year as well, but this time, it’s really serious. Hm… this accident was inevitable. Some minor accidents can be avoided but some cannot. Serious accidents like this could not have been avoided.

Finally he guessed that some scapegoats would be made to round off the whole thing


For sure there will be an investigation, and responsibilities will be affixed; the ventilation shaft section would be blamed, without the slightest doubt. Either a team leader or a section chief would be punished, or even sent to prison in a worse case. Oh, the head of the ventilation control might have to go to prison as well. Then the electrical department could also be blamed, for a broken switch or a short circuit. Whenever an accident happens, the mining bureau must explain it away. Also the safety official in the mine would probably be punished as well. I can recall that officials from the safety department, the ventilation shaft section, and the electrical department were usually found fallible and responsible for these kinds of accidents.


First part of this interview:

Why the Jixi Mine Blast? – An Interview with a Jixi Coal Miner (1)   2002-06-22

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