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Experts blame safety loopholes, rising demand for miner deaths

(Global Times)
Updated: 2016-11-04 10:28

    Preliminary investigations have suggested that a coal mine gas explosion which claimed the lives of 33 miners in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality on Monday was due to "operational negligence."

    Rescue workers ended their efforts on Wednesday morning after finding the bodies of 15 missing miners following the explosion in Jinshangou coal mine in Laisu township, Chongqing, bringing the total death toll to 33.

    The State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) published their investigation report on Tuesday, which said the mine was operating beyond its mining boundaries; used outdated, insufficient or malfunctioning equipment; failed to ensure adequate ventilation; and that its health and safety management was "disorderly," the Xinhua News Agency reported.

    A total of 35 miners were working under ground at the privately-owned coal mine when the gas explosion took place at 11:30 am on Monday.

    The initial investigations have shown that at least 12 people, including the company's owner, were responsible for the disaster and they are now in police custody pending further investigations.

    After the explosion, the Chongqing coal mine safety inspection bureau ordered all the mines in the municipality to suspend production for emergency safety checks.

    'Only a few can survive'

    According to the China National Coal Association, the country's coal production was 3.68 billion tons in 2015, accounting for 47 percent of the world's total production that year.

    Along with this stunning volume, mining accident statistics are also shocking. A total of 598 miners were killed at work in 2015, according to the SAWS.

    An official surnamed Yang from the Chongqing coal bureau told the Global Times on Thursday that illegal activities are prevalent in coal mines and "when accidents happen, usually only a few can survive."

    He said that working in a mine is dangerous as coal seams contain flammable gas, "not to mention that flooding may come at any time."

    Most miners in China are poorly educated, knowing little or nothing about geology or safety, and they usually toil hundreds meters underground, "so when [accidents] happen, they have no way to escape," said Yang.

    When asked about official security checks, Yang noted that different provinces have different standards.

    "Normally big cities conduct security checks more frequently and take them more seriously than small cities," he said, adding that bribes can make many officials turn a blind eye to safety hazards.

    Altogether 27 workers in the Dongfang mine in Huainan, East China's Anhui Province were killed by an explosion on August 19, 2014.

    An investigation showed that the local inspection bureau had found the mine was operating illegally in 2012. However, some officials from the bureau took bribes from the mine owner and adopted no further action, the Economic Information newspaper reported.

    Production push

    Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, told the Global Times that after falling for three years, the recent surge in the coal prices has stimulated the industry.

    The benchmark Bohai-Rim Steam-Coal Price Index rose to 593 yuan ($87) per ton as of October, compared with only 384 yuan in the same period last year, china.cn reported.

    Yang said that after the recent surge in coal prices, many mines are eager to increase their production even at the risk of breaking the law or killing their workers.

    A total of 18 people were killed in an explosion at a coal mine in Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region on September 27. An initial investigation showed that the explosion was caused by illegal mining.

    Four ministries, including the National Energy Administration, jointly released a document in April saying coal mines - except those that produce specific types of coal or have specific safety requirements - can only operate for 276 days a year at most.

    These policies aim to reduce production in China's coal sector, which is seriously oversupplied, said Lin.

    The price has skyrocketed due to the shortage of coal alternatives and this summer's extreme weather, said Lin, adding that stocking up on coal in preparation for the winter heating has also contributed to price rises.

    The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) held three meetings in one week with the country's top coal firms in a bid to contain prices, Reuters reported in October.

    In the latest meeting on October 27, the NDRC told leading coal producers to include maximum prices in their 2017 supply contracts at or below current spot market levels, Reuters reported.


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