China Labour Bulletin established its bilingual Work Accident Map in December 2014 to track and categorise workplace accidents reported in domestic media.
The purpose of the project is not to record every single work accident (there are simply too many) but to provide a qualitative and descriptive dimension to the anonymous statistics and generalised reports issued by the Chinese government. The primary aim of the government’s statistics is to show the overall decline in the number of workplace accidents and deaths in China, and in particular the decline in the number of major accidents. This official narrative gives the impression that work safety in China is improving. However, it glosses over many of the problems that still exist in the workplace as well as new work hazards that are emerging as the economy shifts away from mining, heavy industry and manufacturing and toward services, transport and logistics.
The Accident Map is made up of more than 4,000 individual entries that list the date and location of the accident, the number of deaths and injuries, the type of accident (explosion, structural/mechanical failure, etc.) and the industrial sector it occurred in. It also includes the original media reports that provide valuable detail on how the accident occurred and the response of the authorities. The vast majority of these reports are in Chinese, but some major accidents do include English-language reports.
The baseline for inclusion on the map is at least one worker death or injury, or an incident affecting three or more workers but not necessarily leading to injury or death, such as being trapped in a coal mine or being forced to evacuate from a fire. We will also include some incidents that official records exclude, such as the fires at migrant worker housing complexes in Beijing in the winter of 2017 and the deaths of five young kindergarten teachers in November 2018, which highlighted the hazardous living conditions that low-paid workers are forced to endure.
Reliance on official media, and to some extent social media, reports for information naturally results in a sample bias. Coal mine accidents and incidents involving construction and sanitation workers, for example, are widely reported, while smaller incidents in factories and industrial facilities that occur within a contained environment are probably underreported.
The map also has a bias toward larger incidents that receive more publicity. Even so, 97.2 percent of the more than 3,600 accidents recorded by mid-2022 (for which the death total could be confirmed) involved fewer than 10 deaths, 2.5 percent of accidents had 10-29 deaths, and only 0.3 percent (a total of 11) had more than 30 deaths.
The Accident Map only records about one percent of the official total of work-related accidents reported by the government. Nevertheless, it can still provide some insights into the most common types of accidents in China and the most dangerous industries. The construction sector, for example, is by far the most prevalent source of accidents on the map; it is also recognised by the Ministry of Emergency Management as the industry with consistently the highest number of accidents in China.
To undertake an analysis of the data recorded on the map, users may select the time frame of interest and the categories to compare. For example, a user could search for the relative numbers of accidents in the manufacturing and storage/logistics sectors from January 2016 to December 2017, or the number of accidents involving motor vehicles in 2018. All this data can be exported to an .xls file by clicking on “Export Data.”
The map was updated in May 2022 to include additional industrial sectors due to safety risks of China’s workers. To the original list of coal mining, other mining, construction, heavy industry, manufacturing, maintenance, sanitation, warehousing and logistics, five additional industrial sectors were added: medical, firefighting, fishing, energy and internet technology.
Users can also search according to company ownership to see in which ownership types state-owned enterprises, private enterprises etc.) accidents are most concentrated. Currently, this category only dates back to January 2020, but we plan to gradually backdate the data.
Like the Strike Map, the Accident Map is able to generate graphic charts which are accessible by clicking the “Graphs” button in the bottom left-hand corner on the map. This will produce a histogram displaying the number of accidents in each year or each month for the date range selected.
Selecting the pie chart function allows users to compare data based on different criteria such as industries, types of accidents, number of deaths and injuries. Hovering the cursor over the chart will display the actual number and percentage of incidents in each category.
The bar chart combines the histogram and pie chart functions so that the data for each year or month over a defined time period can be broken down into specific industries.
For an overview of work safety in China and a more detailed analysis of the map data, please see our explainer on work safety, which examines the legal and administrative framework in China, the most common types of work-related accidents, occupational disease, overwork and dangerous housing conditions, as well as offering a series of recommendations on how work safety can be improved.