Workplace accidents down, but more deaths

After reading the article about a workplace accident in a steel mill, I got curious about the Chinese workplace safety record. I couldn’t find much that was current and on point. This article, from April of 2004, was interesting. Accidents were down, but more deaths resulted from the smaller number of accidents. The numbers are large, but you have to factor in the total population of China is also large.

China (english edition)

Although total accidents were 4.1 per cent lower than the same period of last year, the death toll climbed 2.4 per cent.

He attributed the situation to the country’s continuous safety inspections, specialized rectifications and the building of a legal system on workplace safety.

Major accidents and deaths were reported from road traffic accidents, coal mines or other industrial sector incidents, trade and commercial enterprise accidents, fires and waterways and railway traffic incidents, according to statistics.

Road traffic accidents remain the top killer, with 30,733 people killed in 167,463 reported cases. Such deaths and accidents accounted for 80.5 per cent and 58.2 per cent of the country’s total, respectively, over the past four months.

Coal-related deaths dropped 25 per cent during January-April period with 1,267 deaths reported in 854 registered cases. The total output of coal was up 19 per cent up over the same period the previous year.

Fortunately, extremely serious accidents — each with a death toll of more than 30 people –dropped.

However, following soaring prices and an increasing domestic demand for chemical products, more serious accidents took place over the past few weeks in that field due to outdated technology, ageing facilities and poor management.

Nine people were killed by a blowout involving chemical products in a factory in Southwest China’s Chongqing municipality on April 16.

Three workers were poisoned to death in Maoming, in South China’s Guangdong Province, on April 19 after chemicals leaked at a local refinery.

‘Such accidents resulted in 23 deaths, the poisonings of 300 others and more than 150,000 people had to be evacuated during emergency operations from April 16 to 24, shocking all of society,’ Wang [Xianzheng, an official of the State Administration of Work Safety] disclosed.

The same issue of China Daily had some other interesting safety related articles:

Road accidents kill 300 a day in China

Latest research shows that every day in China at least 300 people are killed in traffic accidents, ranking the country top in the world for both the death toll and the death rate. And the figure is accelerating by 10 per cent every year.

“It was a little ironic as the overall number of vehicles in China is far smaller than that in Western countries, while the death rate from road accidents is much higher,” said an academic surnamed Wang who was quoted in the China Youth Daily.

“According to our research, the death toll and death rate per 10,000 automobiles here is eight times more than that in America,” he said.

The most important factor was still the negligence of drivers. Statistics showed that last year some 78.5 per cent of the deaths, about 86,000 people, were caused by improper driving.

Punishment for negligent drivers is said to be too lenient due to a failure of the relevant laws to catch up with current conditions.

But they do seem to be cracking down on enforcement officials who are slacking off at their posts … In April they published this article

Official sacked for accidents

A deputy commissioner in Shanxi Province was sacked after coal mining accidents that killed 141 and caused millions of yuan in damages in 2002 and 2003.

According to a report in Sunday’s Shanxi Daily, he showed poor leadership in allowing illegal coal mines operations. He was in charge of safety at coal mines and was also the former director of the area’s Work Safety Committee.

Several months earlier, they had set a goal, still awfully weak sounding to me, but I’m no mining expert.

China aims to cut coal mine death toll by 30 percent by 2007

China has set the target of lowering the death toll in coal mine accidents from 7,000 a year at present to 5,000 by 2007.

But it doesn’t seem to be working. Check out this article in December 2004:

China’s mining sector sounds the alarm

An explosion at Chenjiashan Coal Mine in the northwestern province of Shaanxi on November 28 and a gas explosion in a Guizhou mine in Southwest China on December 1 once again added to China’s dismal safety record in the mining industry.

The death toll in Sunday’s gas blast has reached 166, making it the worst since a September 2000 explosion at Muchonggou Coal Mine in Guizhou Province claimed 162 lives.

China’s coal mines have been haunted by death. On October 20 a deadly gas blast in Daping of central Henan Province killed 148.

In the first nine months of this year, 4,153 coal miners were killed in fires, explosions, floods or other disasters, statistics from the State Administration of Work Safety show.

The administration said China reported 80 per cent of the world’s total coal mining-related deaths, although it produced only 35 per cent of the world’s coal.

In fact, the staggering number of coal mining accidents and deaths represent only part of the serious work safety problems in the world’s most populous nation.

China has seen an annual average of about 1 million industrial accidents since 2001, according to the State Administration of Work Safety, with nearly 140,000 deaths each year.

Economic losses incurred in the accidents are estimated to top US$180 billion annually, according to Luo Yun, a researcher at the Chinese University of Geology.

The professor, director of the university’s Work Safety Research Centre, long warned against a sharp rise in workplace accidents amid China’s fast economic growth.

“That’s because the contradiction between China’s booming economy and its weak production safety foundation is going to the extreme,” he said.

And, of course, mining is where steel begins, both for iron ore and for coal. So this is very much tied up in the steel business.

I especially found this part, later in the same article, to be of interest.

What is to blame?

Media commentator Li Wangang said the industrial development history of Western countries should not be used to justify China’s high frequency of workplace accidents at present.

“As a developing country, China should have learned lessons from developed nations and thus does not need to relive their painful experiences,” he said.

Luo went further to stress that in theory all workplace accidents are technical risks and can be prevented through adequate precautionary measures.

But unfortunately, there has been rampant negligence of work safety around the country, says Zhang Baoming, former director of the State Administration of Work Safety.

He said almost all industrial accidents in China were caused by human errors, except a few that resulted from natural factors.

Zhang points to widespread practices of being preoccupied with economic growth while disregarding the life and health of labourers, the government’s lax supervision on safety as well as poor enforcement of related laws and regulations.

“If unchecked, the upward spiral in workplace accidents will not only cause great damage to our society but also pose a grave test to social justice and government credibility,” says Zhang, now a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

The recent series of accidents have drawn particular attention as market demand for coal continues to soar in China.

As the Chinese economy grows at full steam, there has been a dire need for coal, which supplies two-thirds of the country’s total energy and generates 80 per cent of its electricity.

Work safety experts say increased production has forced coal mines to their maximum capacity, triggering more potential risks.

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