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Can Greater Compensation Buy Miners Safety?
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Regulations in Shanxi Province, which came into force at the end of last year, increased compensation levels for mining deaths to almost four times the Chinese mainland’s average.


Families of miners killed while working in the northern province now receive no less than 200,000 yuan (US$24,000) each, up from an average of 10,000-50,000 yuan (US$1,200-6,000).


Survivors of miners killed in two colliery accidents have benefited from the change so far.


The families of 33 miners who died in Yuxian County on December 9 have received a total of 6.6 million yuan, while those of 13 victims of a colliery fire in Xiangning County on December 22 have also been compensated under the new terms.


Some still say that the increased compensation levels are nothing compared to the profits made by private coal mine owners. Since last year, the price of coal has doubled due to strong domestic demand, allowing the mining industry to increase its profitability.


The regulations’ supporters say higher compensation will help ease the troubles of victims’ families and should also motivate mine owners to reduce the likelihood of accidents by using better equipment.


An official from a coal mine safety supervision agency said the previous lower levels of compensation had no deterrent effect for mine owners, being insignificant compared to their increasing returns.


There has been under-investment in safety equipment of an estimated 13.8 billion yuan (US$1.66 billion), according to Shanxi’s provincial government.


The regulations stipulate that any colliery in which more than three people die in one accident will have their mining license withdrawn.


In addition, the provincial government is exploring market reforms that would encourage mine owners to pay attention to long-term benefits rather than short-term output alone. This should encourage them to invest in safety equipment and practices.


It is also encouraging larger mining groups to purchase or combine badly managed smaller mines and to strengthen workplace safety in all of them. 


(China.org.cn by Wang Zhiyong, February 11, 2005)


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