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Coal Mine Safety Sought

Shanxi Province, China's leading coal producer, has ordered officials at local coal mines to inspect shafts to find hidden safety risks and solve problems.

Regulations issued by the Shanxi Provincial Coal Industrial Bureau in Taiyuan recently stipulate that top officials of coal mines must make three inspection tours in shafts each month, deputy officials who are in charge of production and safety must go down to the shaft at least four times, and deputy engineers visit shafts at least five times a month.

Lower ranking officials are required to inspect shafts five to 10 times each month according to their occupational posts.

Jin Shanzhong, vice governor of the northern province, said that the move is aimed at uncovering safety risks in coal mines and improving officials' and miners' awareness of safety, thus reducing accidents.

To prevent coal mines from operating beyond their production capacity and with the aim of reducing accidents and casualties, the province has asked local coal mines to limit the number of miners working underground at one time.

Shanxi is just one of the provinces that have intensified measures to improve coal mine safety following an alarming number of major accidents that have claimed hundreds of lives in China over the past few months.

Last October, a coal mine blast killed 148 miners at the Daping Colliery in central Henan Province. Two months later, a similar accident claimed 166 lives in Tongchun, a city in northwestern Shaanxi Province. Last month, a coal mine gas explosion at the Sunjiawan coal mine in Fuxin in northeastern Liaoning Province killed 214.

Investigation into the Daping explosion found 24 people responsible for the tragedy, including Shi Jichuan, vice governor of Henan, according to a State Council meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao in January.

Although the cause of the Sunjiawan blast is still under investigation, a State Council meeting chaired by Wen on February 23 suspended Liu Guoqiang, vice governor of Liaoning.

"Those responsible for the accident will be punished once the cause of the disaster is found," according to a statement released after the meeting, which was convened to work on measures to improve work safety in coal mines.

China's rising demand for fuel has driven up coal prices as well as some mine owners' lust for profits. Overload has become a major conduit for output growth in the coal industry in China, the world's biggest coal consumer and producer.

According to the State Administration of Work Safety, now elevated to the General Administration of Work Safety, around one-third of China's state-owned coal mines are overloaded and accident-prone.

(Xinhua News Agency March 17, 2005)

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