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Bigger Safety Deposit Needed
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Coal-mine owners and local officials responsible for workplace accidents deserve swift and harsh punishment, but only long-term preventative mechanisms will truly check the rising death toll.

An important regulation on the management of corporate funds against work safety risks was recently issued to standardize Chinese enterprises' preparation for work incidents.

This is an overdue effort to give legislative teeth to the ongoing effort to improve the country's work safety situation.

Requiring all enterprises to set aside certain funds not only helps to facilitate rescue work in case of accidents but also strengthens workplace safety awareness and accountability.

As the world's biggest coal producer and consumer, China has been plagued by coal mine accidents in recent years.

Though the problem is ostensibly related to the country's rapid economic growth and stretched domestic demand for coal, the easing of energy bottlenecks in the first half of this year does not necessarily mean the safety of China's coal mines is secured.

Last year, 5,938 people were killed in 3,341 coal mine related accidents throughout China. This grim reality has forced the authorities to come up with drastic administrative measures.

Since small coal mines are typically more dangerous than large ones, the work safety authority has focused on shutting down small and illegally operating mines.

The number of small coal mines has been reduced from 23,000 to 17,000. Before 2008, China is expected to shut down an additional 7,000 mines to bring the total number below 10,000.

As a result, the country saw an 11.4 percent decrease in the number of accidents, and a 12.1 percent reduction in the number of deaths, between January to May over the same period last year.

These administrative measures have proved effective in deterring some coal mine owners from maximizing profits at any cost.

Yet, to ensure a steady improvement of the country's work safety situation, particularly in sectors like coal mining, enterprises themselves must be galvanized into everyday vigilance against possible incidents.

The financial requirements of the new regulation might still be insufficient. According to the new rule, the sum of special funds against work safety risks varies between 300,000 yuan (US$37,500) and 5 million yuan (US$625,000), according to the size of the relevant enterprise.

But its introduction lays a foundation for enterprises to directly measure their cost of ignoring workplace safety.

To ease collection, it is convenient to relate the sum of this special fund to each enterprise's size at present.

Nevertheless, if this fund is later made flexible enough to reflect work safety performance, all enterprises will find it pays to keep a safer workplace.

(China Daily August 4, 2006)

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