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Accidents 'likely' to rise over holidays
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The top safety agency yesterday warned against a possible spike in accidents driven by an expected rise in demand for energy over the festive period.

"The cold weather, which can hinder transportation, and a shortfall in the supply of hydropower might lead to a surge in demand for coal," Li Yizhong, head of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), said at a press conference held by the State Council Information Office.

Some provinces, including Shaanxi and Hunan, are experiencing power shortages partly due to coal transportation being hindered by the snow, he said.

"Efforts should be made to guarantee the power supply, but we cannot trade safety for higher output," Li said.

He said authorities will also carry out special inspections to ensure the safe transportation and storage of fireworks over the Spring Festival.

Li yesterday disclosed the punishments given to those involved in five major accidents.

The accidents, including the country's worst bridge collapse in Fenghuang, Hunan province, last year and the explosion at the Nanshan coal mine in Jinzhong, Shanxi in 2006, resulted in 189 deaths and 76.7 million yuan ($10.6 million) in economic losses.

A total of 183 people have been punished, with 78 of them facing judicial trials, Wang Wei, a spokesman for the Ministry of Supervision, said.

Loose management, lapse supervision and possible corruption were the main reasons Li gave for the problems.

In the latest case involving coal mine fatalities, a gas explosion on Sunday in Linfen, Shanxi province, left at least 20 people dead. Miners had attempted to reopen an illegal mine amid snowfall.

In order to weed out potential accidents, the SAWS said this year it will focus on uncovering hidden dangers in the workplace by encouraging people to report accidents in a timely manner.

More than 101,400 people died in workplace and transportation accidents last year, down 10 percent on 2006.

Li said the government has "basically" reached its goal set at the beginning of its term to "improve and stabilize the workplace safety situation".

The number of workplace accidents has been in steady decline since 2003, while casualties per million tons of coal have dropped from 4.94 percent to 1.48 percent over the past five years, Li said.

But he said the situation remains severe, with the annual death toll above 100,000.

In the past five years, authorities have closed 11,155 small coal mines and spent more than 83 billion yuan on upgrading safety technology and equipment.

In a bid to further reduce the number of casualties, 5,000 more mines will be closed by 2010, and production will be reduced by 200 million tons.

"But shifting from resources-fueled economic development to high efficiency economic growth is the fundamental way to improve work safety," Li said.

Li said authorities will also investigate reports of an alleged coverup of the deaths of at least 10 workers during the construction of Beijing's main Olympic stadium.

British newspaper The Sunday Times said at least 10 workers have died building the showpiece National Stadium.

Li said he was unaware of the matter.

"This is the first time I have heard of such an incident

"I will instruct the Beijing work safety administration to investigate.

"If there was such an accident, those responsible will face punishment," he said.

(China Daily January 23, 2008)

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