Media Summary: Coal Mine Disasters in China

December 1, 2004

A November 28 mine explosion killed some 166 miners working in the Chenjiashan mine in Shaanxi province, according to multiple news media sources. This disaster follows a series of mine explosions and fires that have taken 4,153 lives in the first nine months of 2004. A report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) lists nine other large mine disasters in 2004 that have caused between 19 and 148 deaths each.

The SCMP reports that Chenjiashan is a large state-owned mine employing more than 3,000 workers. A later SCMP account alleges that mine management ordered the Chenjiashan miners back to work in the mine even though a fire that had broken out the previous week continued to burn.

An article in the Christian Science Monitor notes that in recent months the Chinese government has permitted the press to report promptly on these coal mine disasters. In the past, local officials and mine owners either banned or covered up reports of such catastrophic incidents.

Foreign NGOs are beginning to recognize the need to help China with coal mine safety programs. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor has funded a mine safety program in China, implemented by the National Safety Council. For further information see the CECC 2004 Annual Report.

Despite the Chenjiashan explosion, most observers believe that lethal accidents do not occur on a large scale in state-owed mines; the majority of such incidents seem to be at small village and private mines. But the International Labor Organization (ILO) has undertaken the task of training workers in small mines on ways to reduce accidents. (See Asian Labour News.)