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More Time Needed to Improve Work Safety
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China still needs more time before it can see a significant improvement in production safety, a top safety official said yesterday.

About 320 lives are lost daily in workplace accidents.

"China is such a large and developing country, and is in the middle of rapid industrialization, thus accidents happen and cannot be avoided," Li Yizhong, minister of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) told a pres conference yesterday.

Li, who was reported to have yelled and pounded his desk because of a series of serious accidents last month, said "mental preparation" is needed for a long and ardous journey before China can step out of a highly accident-prone period.

He hoped the country's safety situation would see a significant improvement in about 10 to 15 years.

Huang Shuxian, deputy minister of the Ministry of Supervision, also announced yesterday the results of investigations into 11 major accidents, seven mining and four others, which claimed 535 lives, with 11 still missing and an economic loss of 415 million yuan (US$53 million).

The investigations resulted in 117 people being transferred to judicial departments to face possible criminal charges, and 166 officials, including two provincial-level, were given various administrative sanctions.

Li said that some businessmen turn a blind eye to the law, chaotic management and bad supervision of local governments. Corruption should also be blamed.

"Behind the curtain of some accidents are problems like dereliction of duty, money-for-power, as well as collusion between businessmen and officials," Li said.

He said the number of workplace accidents as well as fatalities are expected to see a sharp decline this year.

Up to December 17 this year, 110,000 lives were lost in more than 610,000 accidents nationwide. A one-tenth drop in the death rate compared to the same period last year.

A drastic decline is also forecast in the accident-prone coal mining industry a 21 percent reduction compared to the same period last year, Li said.

The final death toll this year is certain to be much lower than last year's 127,000 deaths, Li said. "The overall production safety situation is stable and showing signs of improvement."

Li attributed the drop in the number of deaths to a nationwide crackdown on numerous small coal mines that do not have adequate safety equipment and account for the majority of deaths.

The country closed nearly 6,000 small coal mines last year and planned to shut down about the same number in the coming two years, said Zhao Tiechui, deputy minister of SAWS.

"These small mines are pits that devour lives; if we shut them down, the accident rate will decline," Li said.

He also brushed aside doubts that the closure of small mines would lead to a reduction in coal output and harm the national economy.

Recent statistics show coal output increased 8.1 percent, whereas the accumulative production of small mines in counties and towns saw a year-on-year 5.6 percent increase, Li said.

He said the current national coal in stock is 147 million tons, the equivalent of last year's, and it should increase after the winter months.

"I can say with responsibility that the rectification and closure of small mines will not affect the national economy and the living standards of the people," Li added.

(China Daily December 22, 2006)

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