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Concerns over Safety at Work
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China's insatiable appetite for energy to feed its booming industrial production could lead to a rebound of industrial accidents, a leading work safety official said yesterday.

Addressing a national teleconference, Li Yizhong, minister of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), said that the vast demand for energy to sustain economic growth was putting huge pressure on safety at work.

The country's electricity supply is expected to reach its peak as summer approaches, he said.

"The booming coal market is fanning the impulse of coal mines and other companies to increase production," he said.

"That will put more pressure on workers," he said, "as the phenomena of illegal production and illegal operation become rampant."

Companies tend to ignore work safety rules and surpass their production capacity, overworking their employees and overloading equipment to meet the demand, he said.

The warning came just days after a slew of serious accidents occurred during the May Day Golden Week holiday.

On Friday, 14 people died and 43 were injured after a runaway truck ploughed into a group of people waiting for a bus in southwest China's Yunnan Province.

On Monday, 17 people were killed and 25 others were injured when a bus came off the road in southwest China's Guizhou Province.

Li made specific reference to the disordered management and deliberate delay in reporting a gas explosion at a colliery in Linfen in north China's Shanxi Province on Saturday, which killed 30 miners.

"These frequent accidents expose the loopholes and deep-rooted problems relating to work safety in key industries," Li said.

He said that SAWS would launch a special campaign to improve work safety in key industries over the coming months.

China reported 11.1 percent growth if its gross domestic product in the first quarter of this year, a year-on-year increase of 0.7 percent.

The country's fixed assets scale swelled 23.7 percent and industries with huge energy consumption, like steel, non-ferrous and chemical, registered an increase of 20.6 percent.

The increasing demand for electricity has also buoyed coal prices and stimulated its production.

The average coal price at the end of March was 6.2 percent up on last year, while coal output for the first four months was up 6.4 percent.

Huang Yi, a spokesman for the SAWS said that by the end of the year it will have closed some 4,000 small mines that failed to meet safety standards.

(China Daily May 9, 2007)

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