Energy & Resources

Another mining disaster…

But this time in a ‘safe’ coal mine; or is there such a thing in China?

Once more into the breach: mining remains a dangerous job in China

A gas explosion, which killed 74 miners at Tunlan in Shanxi province last Sunday, has angered a Chinese media long used to reporting on industrial accidents. The blast seems to have been caused by inadequate ventilation, as well as incomplete enforcement of safety regulations.

Media concern has focused on the disaster occurring at a large state-owned facility. News site nen.com.cn, for instance, posits that it would have been less of a surprise at a smaller coal mine, where “immoral” owners and poor working conditions are often cited as factors in fatal accidents.

Zhao Tiechui, head of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, agreed that this was an accident that “should never have occurred”. Three top executives at Tunlan have already been dismissed, local government officials are under investigation for lax enforcement of safety regulations, and the provincial government has made a formal omission of error to the State Council.

Television coverage of Shanxi Governor Wang Jun sobbing an apology to the relatives of miners killed in the blast also breaks new ground. Wang’s predecessor resigned after 277 people died in the collapse of an unlicensed iron ore reservoir last September, according to the China Daily.

The Nanfang Daily is less surprised that the accident occurred on state premises. The extensive sale of mining licences by local governments has led to an ultra-competitive environment, it says, in which even the large, state-owned mines are being forced to cut costs to survive. It argues for consolidation within the industry, as well as a stricter licensing process.

The Chongqing Times believes that management shortcomings are the common theme behind the various disasters that continue to feature in the news. It accepts that there has been an increase in expenditure on safety equipment within the industry. But managers seem not to be using the equipment properly and the basics of safety policy are too frequently misunderstood.

The accident is particularly unfortunate as Tunlan had previously been commended for its safety standards. Shanxi has also been singled out by the National People’s Congress as a province in which coal industry safety standards are expected to improve.

Up until last week, the mine had gone more than four years (and a million tonnes of output) without a fatality. But China Business News points out that Tunlan suffers from above average gas emission during coal production. It also quotes “insider” suggestions that the mine may have been operating at the brink of capacity – a level at which both equipment and mine personnel risked fatigue.


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