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Safety Experts Sent to Inspect Coal Mines

Eighty-four experts from around the country were dispatched on Wednesday to 45 major state-owned collieries to help curb the number of gas-related accidents.

"These experts will conduct inspections from April 20 to July 20 in major coal mines that are prone to gas accidents," said Minister Li Yizhong of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) on Wednesday.

They will diagnose any potential risks and improve prevention measures while gathering ideas for future technological innovation to reduce the number of accidents.

According to Zhang Tiegang of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, who will lead a team to Jiangxi and Hubei provinces, these teams will be looking for problems and hazards likely to arise at the individual mines, rather than merely checking items off a standard list as has been done in the past.

"Comprehensive methods are needed to deal with gas-related problems, which require us to consolidate the technical achievements we have made in the past," he said.

SAWS, the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety (SACMS), the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Ministry of Science and Technology collaborated to set up the 11 teams. They will visit the 45 collieries in 17 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.

More than half of the pits are at risk of gas-related accidents, said Zhao Tiechui, head of SACMS.

China's coal mines are among the world's deadliest, with thousands of deaths each year blamed on the lack of required equipment and indifference to safety standards. Even at state-owned mines -- generally considered safer than small, independent operations -- there is a safety investment shortfall of about 50 billion yuan (US$6 billion).

Driven by China's energy demands, the country doubled its coal output in 2004 to 1.9 billion tons from 1 billion in 2001.

"Currently, 1.2 billion tons of coal in China is produced safely, while 700 million tons is dug out in an unsafe environment," said Zhao.

To reverse the situation, the government has allocated 3 billion yuan (US$362.7 million) to upgrade safety this year and the NDRC in February called on coal mines with a sound safety record to allocate 15 yuan (US$1.80) from every ton of coal produced to establish a safety fund.

There are nearly 2,000 large and medium-size state-owned collieries operating in China and more than 23,000 small, private operations. The latter, while supplying only about 30 percent of coal output, account for some 70 percent of mining accidents.

(China Daily, China.org.cn April 21, 2005)

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