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New Work Safety Minister Discusses Plans
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The State Council named Li Yizhong to head the newly elevated General Administration of Work Safety (GAWS) on February 28 as part of the government effort to curb rampant coal mine accidents.

Li moved to the position from his former slot as a deputy director of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission.

Mining safety has become a crucial issue for the central government, with the number of recent accidents causing huge losses of life and property as well as a negative social impact.

Li admitted that he was somewhat surprised to be named to head the administration, but he believes he can make a contribution to solving these problems.

"I have long experience in the petrochemical industry. In the past 30 years, I have experienced and handled some accidents. When I was the factory director, I helped to carry the dead bodies of workers when accidents occurred and went to comfort their relatives with tears and grief. We have a great responsibility to avoid such tragedies."

Despite being in office for only a few weeks, he has brought some new concepts to the job. For example, he proposed that safety inspections be conducted by specialists, because those carried out by laypeople become mere visits.

The administration and local governments of 20 major coal production provinces have organized 105 experts to conduct safety checks on 45 key mines. An accountability system for safe production will also be set up.

Li said another focus of their work will be to make occupational safety laws that regulate production activities.

Further, a risk escrow system is in the works, in which mine owners will deposit funds to be used for upgrading safety equipment and systems.

"China produces nearly 2 billion tons of coal annually. If we take five yuan for each ton of coal, that will be over 10 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion). The money can be used to improve technologies and control potential safety risks," said Li.

He went on to point out that it is a small price to pay.

"Now the mine owners can make 50 yuan (US$6) profit from each ton of the coal, and some even make 100 yuan. Without safe production as the foundation, monetary profit is only empty talk."

(China.org.cn by Wang Qian, March 15, 2005)

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