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Accidental Deaths on the Rise
Traffic, airline, school, home and workplace accidents are on the rise this year across the nation but have seen a healthy decline in Shanghai, national safety officials announced during a countrywide video conference yesterday.

The officials were pushing local governments to increase inspections of hazardous workplaces, particularly coal mines and transportation facilities, to reduce the country's accident rate in the lead up to the 16th National Party Congress, which starts on November 8.

There were 631,264 reported accidents during the first seven months of this year, according to the State Occupational Safety Supervisory Bureau, an increase of 9 percent over the same period last year.

Those accidents were responsible for 75,741 deaths, an increase of 4.5 percent, according to bureau official Wang Xianzhen.

Shanghai, on the other hand, saw both the number of accidents and fatalities drop so far this year. There were 217 accidents in the city between January 1 and September 23 of this year -- down 4.41 percent year-on-year -- leading to 226 deaths, a decline in fatalities of 18.41 percent.

While the number of accidents and deaths are on the rise nationwide, government officials say they are optimistic the situation is actually improving.

"The safety situation in China is not bad," said Li Rongrong, director of State Economic and Trade Commission.

Li bases his optimism on the fact that the number of accident and deaths are growing at a slower rate than they did last year.

Shanghai's Vice Mayor Jiang Yiren said yesterday the safety situation in the city is "stable."

"Although Shanghai has had no serious accidents this year, we still see many small accidents. Officials should continue to enhance their vigilance," said Jiang.

Coal mines remain one of the biggest safety concerns in the country, as the first eight months of the year saw four mine disasters cause more than 30 deaths each. Most of the accidents happened at un-licensed mines that lack even basic safety procedures and equipment.

Despite its efforts, the central government has struggled to close down illegal mines around the country, often because they are protected by corrupt local officials eager to keep them in business so as not to lose valuable tax revenues.

The biggest accident of the year occurred on April 15, when an Air China plane crashed in Busan, South Korea, killing 128 of the 166 people on board.

But, while plane crashes and mine explosions make the most headlines, traffic accidents were the cause of most accidental deaths in the country last year, with nearly 287 people dying from them every single day.

During yesterday's conference, Director Li blamed many county and village-level officials for not placing a high priority on safety issues.

China is expected to enact a new workers safety law on November 1 that will clarify who is responsible for accidents and outline what punishment negligent individuals, companies and officials might face.

(eastday.com September 26, 2002)

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