Citing a State Administration of Work Safety circular, a Chinese media report yesterday claimed that the death rate in China’s coal mines fell by one third in 2012 to stand at 0.374 deaths per million tons of coal production, the first time the rate had fallen below 0.5 deaths per million tons.
However, China’s coal mine death rate is still more than ten times higher than the rate for developed countries of around 0.02 deaths per million tons of coal production on average.
International Coal Net (国际煤炭网) reported that, based on a national coal production figure of 3.65 billion tons last year, the actual number of coal mine deaths in China in 2012 would be around 1,300, the lowest number since records began 60 years ago. The official figure for the number coal mine deaths in 2011 was 1,973.
Although the official number of coal mine deaths has declined dramatically from the appalling highs of nearly 7,000 fatalities per year a decade ago, deadly accidents remain all too common, especially in the less-well regulated regions of southwest China.
Moreover, a new study in the Harvard Business Review of 276 Chinese enterprises operating in dangerous industries such as mining found a startling correlation between worker fatality rates and the political “connections” of enterprise managers. The study revealed that “connected” companies had five times as many worker deaths on average as unconnected companies.
As China Labour Bulletin pointed out in our 2008 research report on the coal mining industry in China, one the key reasons why local government officials fail to enforce coal mine safety standards is the intricate and almost impenetrable web of collusion that exists between the mine owners and those government officials. In many cases, local government officials have a direct economic interest in the mine and are far more interested in profit than safety.