China is working hard on ways to improve coal mine safety and worker's rights as the ever rampant coal mine accidents still threaten the safety and health of China's miners. With recent agreements signed between China and the United States, China is expected to benefit from the cooperation with the world's leading country with the best mine safety record.
More than six thousand coal miners lost their lives in hundreds of mine accidents in China last year. The situation is still grim as the country waits for proper solutions to ensure a more efficient and safe way of exploiting coal, the primary energy source in China.
The State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) indicates in 2003, coal mine accidents took up nearly 40 percent of total on job accidents and the death toll accounted for more than 40 percent despite a series of control measures which has helped decrease the number of miners' deaths compared with the previous year.
After touring some coal mines in North China, a high ranking official from the US Department of Labor, who has been in China with the US Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao during her recent visit, understands the difficulties China faces.
"One of the major difficulties is the number of small mining operations in China. Many of those are not registered and they present particular problems because they don't implement proper safety and health procedures. Also the issues of adequate supervision and inspection of coal mines was an issue that we discussed at length, because of the layers of government, which represents some difficulties on which we will be cooperating with our counterparts in the future. In the United States, what also represents difficulties is the amount of methane and gas presenting in some coal mines which presents problems without adequate ventilation."
Through a four million dollar grant, the US Department of Labor has already started collaborating with China in a mine safety project. And the recent trip by US Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao to China has achieved the signing of several agreements between China and the United States in the areas of labor, employment rights and workplace safety. These agreements are believed to help China improve working conditions, raise standards of living for Chinese workers and develop mine rescue techniques in a market economy.
"I think it is important to understand that the SAWS is very interested in understanding how to improve the safety in coal mines. And part of our purpose here is to help in that process."
The official says the US's principal expertise in guaranteeing coal mine safety is the method of safety inspection. And as the first step in implementing the agreements, China is to send more than a dozen people to the United States this October to receive training on mine safety inspection.
(CRI July 4, 2004)