Close to 3,800 people died in coal mine accidents in the country last year, a marked improvement from the year before but one that still leaves mine fatalities here the highest in the world.
The death toll of 3,786 last year is 20 percent lower than in 2006 - indicating the effectiveness of a safety campaign to shut small, illegal mining operations and reduce gas explosions, China's top work safety agency said on Saturday.
"It is the second consecutive year for the country to report a 20-percent-fall in coal mine fatalities," Minister of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), Li Yizhong, said at a work safety meet in Beijing.
The authorities have been shutting down small coal mines of limited capacity and investing more in facilities to improve safety records.
Small coal mines account for a third of all coal mines in China, but experience two-thirds of the total fatalities in the industry every year, Li said.
A total of 11,155 small coal mines, or 45 percent of the mines in China, have been closed since authorities started to shut down such collieries in the second half of 2005, officials at the meeting said.
Over the last three years, the central government has directed 9 billion yuan ($1.24 billion) in treasury bonds to upgrade safety equipment at major State-owned mines and pooled 64.1 billion yuan from local governments and enterprises towards that aim.
The central authorities will continue to direct 3 billion yuan in treasury bonds to improve safety this year, along with 20 billion yuan at the local level, officials said.
China is the world's largest coal producer and a number of its mines have reportedly pushed production beyond safety limits for higher profits.
The country's coal output was estimated at 2.52 billion tons last year, up 5 percent from the previous year, Li said.
The meeting, which started on Friday, revealed that 101,480 people died in workplace and transportation accidents last year, down 10.1 percent year-on-year, with road-related accidents down 8.7 percent and railway-related accidents down 45.1 percent.
"The situation is improving, but the road ahead remains arduous," Li said on Friday.
Separately, six people were confirmed dead and one reported missing from a fire at a mine on Saturday in Jiangxi province, local officials said yesterday.
Seven miners were in the pit when the fire broke out at the Luosiwu Coal Mine at 8.30 am, in Yanshan county. Rescue operations are ongoing.
(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency, January 14, 2008)