Miner dies at St. Lawrence Zinc

Since I’ve been giving the chinese so much grief over their horrible mining safety record, it’s only fair that I report on western mine accidents too.


A mining accident Saturday claimed the life of a St. Lawrence County man.

Clewis was standing on a platform, drilling into a wall, when the ceiling collapsed, pinning him under a slab of rock. Aldridge, who had jumped clear, called for help.

Poole begins Senate filibuster over steel coil legislation

This issue of steel coils rolling off flatbeds and damaging roads and potentially injuring people seems like a pretty straightforward “clear and present danger”, yet legislators are still playing political football with it. He didn’t widen the road last year, so I’m not going to increase fines this year. Sheesh! Sounds like public school, not a state legislature.

Sen. Phil Poole, D-Tuscaloosa, started another filibuster last week over a bill sought by Gov. Bob Riley that would up penalties to truckers and companies that allow those gigantic rolls of steel to bounce off their trucks, damaging roads and endangering motorists.


Waggoner said it costs $200,000 to fix each hole in pavement when a steel coil rolls off a truck.

Flooding In China Leaves 181 Miners Trapped

From time to time I comment on the high human cost of Chinese steel. Here we have it again. Chinese mines have the worst safety record in the world.

Heavy flooding poured into two coal mines in eastern China on Friday, leaving 181 miners trapped and feared dead. Two high-speed pumps were being rushed in to drain the flooded shafts, but officials say there’s no word on when rescuers might enter the mines.

China’s coal mines are the world’s deadliest, with thousands of fatalities a year.

Toronto gets its very own coil steel rollover

Over the last few months I’ve reported on runaway coils of steel in big steel areas.

I live in Toronto, and us Torontonians are very competitive. We hate being left out in any competition. So now we too can boast our own near disaster with coiled steel.

The accident happened at what has to be the busiest highway interchange in Toronto, and probably in all of Ontario.

Courtesy of CityNews.com
A tractor trailer rolled over at Highways 400 and 401, shutting down a ramp and making things that much worse on the drive to work.

The rig, carrying rolls of steel, flipped on its side on the ramp from the southbound 400 to the westbound 401 at about 4:30am. Fortunately the driver was okay, only suffering some cuts and scrapes. The mess could have been much worse had there been a fuel spill, but luckily the tanks didn’t crack.

There was concern that the saddle tanks might burst when the truck, with its heavy load, was brought back into an upright position. That’s why it took about four hours to get the vehicle back on its wheels. However, it’s since been cleared from the scene and the roadway has apparently reopened. Traffic on the 401 was slow through the area during the rush hour because drivers were stopping to look, however things have since returned to normal.

Map of the area of the interchange

Gas leak kills four at China steel plant

Once again, chinese steel workers pay a heavy price.

China Economic Net (ce.cn)

The accident occurred at around 0:00 a.m. at Haicheng Iron and Steel Co. Ltd., a private company that produces 500,000 tons of raw iron a year, said an official with the safety inspection bureau in Anshan.

Five workers were on duty and were taking a nap in their office. “Four of them had died when rescuers arrived,” he said on condition of anonymity. “The fifth one was out of danger after timely treatment.”

The leak occurred on a gas pipe connected to the company’s primary blast furnace

Manufacturing’s Race for the Bottom

Today I got more semi-confirmations from others in the slide forming business that US Baird is likely gone. At least, everyone has heard the same rumour, but no one (so far) heard it directly from the horses mouth.

But I thought I’d dwell on this for a bit. What an odd bit of timing. US Baird, an innovative company with a 150 year history, goes out of business. George writes his article on how North America has lost it’s manufacturing tradition. And Menu Foods poisons many hundreds, perhaps thousands of pets, by importing contaminated wheat gluten from China.

What is going on here? Why is manufacturing engaged in a giant race for the bottom?

To some extent, responding to the pressure to reduce cost is good. When you can make an equivalent product, that means, as good or better, by a simpler process, you are reducing cost in a good way. That is, you are reducing the total cost of the product.

For instance, if you find out that 5 microinches of plating is enough for the application, and you cut it down from 10, you reduce the cost. If you find a way to run the machine faster, so it produces more parts per unit time, you are reducing the cost. If you find a smarter method of assembly, so that fewer man hours are needed, you are reducing the cost. If you find a process that is less environmentally harmful, and therefore there is less environmental cleanup involved, you are reducing the cost.

But we’ve stopped doing that. Instead, we’re merely shifting cost into someone else’s back yard, into someone else’s economy. Often, we are increasing the real cost of the item, measured in hours or lives or environmental damage.

Look, for instance, at chinese steel. Chinese steel costs less. There are many reasons, but most of the media attention has been focused on low wages. Low wages are a part of it, but macro economics says that, over time, that will even out. The workers will demand, and eventually get, better wages.

Large parts also have to do with unsafe working conditions, with extremely low cost-of-safety government regulations, inadequate or non-existant enforcement, inadequate compensation for maimed or dead workers, not just in the steel industry but in the other industries behind it, like coal mining.

Those factors won’t ever even out. Those workers will still be dead, and their families will miss them for the rest of their natural lives.

So when the CEO of a company buys products from China, they transfer those costs, insurance, compensation for work accidents, etc, to places which attach little or not currency to those items. It’s not like the number of workplace accidents go down, in fact, they generally go up. And the real human costs, measured by every moral measure, go up. Thousands of chinese mine workers die every year. China has the worst mining safety record in the world. In the world! So in fact, outsourcing to China increases the cost by every moral measure. But it decreases the dollar cost, because the chinese pay so little for a life.

The same arguments can be made for the environment. We shift environmentally substandard processes to other, under developed countries, where the dollar cost of transgression is low, even though the environmental processes are, at best, no different, and in many cases much worse. So it’s not like we’re harming the planet any less, it’s just that we’re doing it in an underdeveloped country where the cost of transgressing hasn’t caught up with the first world.

In other words, we’re creating human misery, suffering and environmental damage, but being asked to pay less for it, because it’s happening somewhere else. Oh, and then there’s the environmental damage of transporting all those products half way around the world.

In what conceivable scenario does this make sense?

Menu Foods is in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto, Canada. Canada is a net exporter of wheat. Why is Menu Foods buying wheat gluten from China, paying shipping charges?
And now they will be paying for a class action lawsuit, for all the dead pets.

It’s easy to blame Menu Foods. They bought an inferior product from far away, a place where, it seems, contaminating pet food isn’t important because, I guess, pets aren’t important. I’ve seen several reports. The gluten was contaminated with rat poison, in one report, with Melamine in another report. In any case, it’s clear that someone didn’t much care about this product.

But whatever happened to quality? Especially in a food. Whatever happened to being willing to pay for good ingredients, properly prepared? For your pets, or your children. Why are we buying inferior products? Why are the WalMarts of the world stocking inferior products? Why are they forcing suppliers to skimp and save and cheapen their products? Why do we as consumers buy from such stores?

Only when you find an answer to why we, as consumers, have pushed for the lowest quality product at the lowest price, will you understand why North American manufacturing is languishing and dying. The race for the bottom starts with us.

China coal mine blast kills 68

From time to time we comment on Chinese workplace safety issues. Here’s another case …


An explosion ripped through a state-owned colliery in northeast China, killing 68 miners and trapping 79 underground, just days after Chinese leaders called for vigilance to prevent major accidents.

The blast late on Sunday was the latest disaster to strike Heilongjiang, whose capital city, Harbin, was held hostage for five days by a toxic spill coursing through the Songhua river that provides its water supply, forcing a shut-down of tap water.

Later, Reuters reported 36 still trapped.

A few minutes ago, a report from a Turkish source implied the trapped 34 were lost:

Mine Accident Death Toll Rises in China to 134 from Zaman.com in Turkey

According to the official Chinese news agency, Shinhua, there are still 15 mine workers missing.

Some background: China’s Deadliest Mining Disasters

And this, of course, is part of the problem:

Families compensated for lives lost in north China mine mishap

Families of the 33 miners killed in the plaster mine cave-in in north China’s Hebei Province on Nov. 6 have been compensated 170,000 yuan (US$21,400) for each victim, the local source said.

Gas Explosion at illegal Chinese coal mine kills 19 workers

I’ve commented before on the worker safety conditions (or lack thereof) in China. So this relayed without further comment. The articles so far don’t say whether this is metalurgical (coaking) coal or some other type.

Yahoo Asia

Thirty-four miners were underground when the accident occurred at the Jiajiapu Coal Mine in Shanxi province Saturday, the report said. Fifteen workers escaped unharmed.

The mine was operating without official permits, it said.

China’s mines are the world’s most dangerous with fires, floods and other mishaps killing workers almost every day. Lax safety rules and a lack of proper safety equipment are often to blame.

Coal mine owners have been ordered to use some of their profits to urgently improve safety conditions. The demand issued yesterday by a senior State Council official comes after China’s appalling work safety record in mines plunged new depths.

The article goes on to say that this will raise coal prices, and that’s not a bad thing, because so much is wasted because it’s so cheap, it’s also an ecological problem.

Another article in Newsday puts this into context:
China’s Legislature Gears Up for Session
The annual meeting of China’s legislature may be little more than tightly scripted political theater, but in a country where all decisions are made in secret, it offers a rare peek behind the curtain.
Later, the author writes:
So much else in China is changing day by day — from business to technology and even village governance — but the National People’s Congress remains a relic of years gone by. Still, the annual spectacle offers a glimpse into the intentions of a government increasingly sure of China’s rising global status and able to swiftly crack down on any opposition to one-party rule.
Topping this year’s agenda is an anti-secession law aimed at curbing pro-independence sentiment in Taiwan[… .]
In closed-door sessions, delegates will discuss eliminating graft, improving workplace safety, lifting rural incomes and protecting China’s ravaged environment, while avoiding any challenges to current policy or leaders.
They also plan to debate how to discourage the abortion of female fetuses in a country where 117 boys are born for every 100 girls.

The whole issue of workplace safety in China has been on my mind recently. Here are some other stories and references:

Death Penalty for China Fireworks Plant Boss
Thursday, December 23, 2004
AP via Fox News
A Chinese factory boss has been sentenced to death for illegally producing fireworks in a workshop where 36 people were killed in an explosion last year, the government said Thursday.
Chen Jicheng set up the unlicensed factory late last year in the northeastern city of Tieling in Liaoning province, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The factory had only been open for three days when an explosion on Dec. 30, 2003, tore apart its two workshops, killing 36 people.
The factory’s manager, You Tao, was sentenced to 7 years in prison for producing illegal fireworks, it said.
China’s fireworks industry suffers hundreds of deaths every year in fires and explosions. The industry employs thousands of people, often in poor rural areas, who do much of the work by hand.

An interesting site is Asian Labour
Asian Labour An online database of news about workers in Southeast Asia and China and the issues that affect them , including a fairly new category of Labour Stats Such data is sparse and hard to find on the internet. There are also pointers on that web site to many other web resources.

China blast comes after 2002 safety law change

Kansas City Star

China’s worst reported mining disaster since communist rule began in 1949 came three years after officials had promised to overhaul the nation’s workplace safety system.

In October 2002, the government created China’s first safety laws and launched a nationwide effort that included workplace inspectors. Despite those efforts, deadly accidents have continued to plague the country’s coal mines and factories.

Last year more than 6,000 miners died in fires, floods and explosions — an average of about 16 workers per day. The country accounts for 80 percent of the world’s coal mining fatalities.

Experts say the new laws have not been matched with adequate education or enforcement. Many blame China’s demand for coal and its booming economy for tempting mine owners and workers to cut safety corners.

China is the world’s top producer of coal, with 1.9 billion tons extracted last year, 10 percent more than in 2003.

Fuxin is in one of China’s oldest coal mining regions, and many of its mines have been depleted, according to state media reports. Miners must tunnel far underground to reach coal seams, and the risk of explosion due to methane gas is high.

Monday’s disaster was the deadliest reported by the government since the 1949 communist revolution. Until the late 1990s, when the government regularly began announcing statistics on mining deaths, many industrial accidents were never disclosed.