Emergency capsule underground would provide food, water and air
Facing an ever-growing appetite for coal production this year, the country's work safety watchdog is mulling over the introduction of a "life-saving capsule" - a mine refuge facility placed deep in the mining shaft.
The underground space would provide oxygen, drinking water and food for miners seeking temporary safety from accidents, said Zhao Tiechui, deputy director of the State Administration of Work Safety and director of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety.
The administration plans to start with pilot projects using the safety facility this year, said Zhao.
Earlier models of the facility will be those that are fixed in the mining shafts. Future structures made of metal in more sophisticated forms will be movable.
Zhao said such facilities have been used in foreign countries.
South Africa, Canada and Australia are among the countries that have already introduced such facilities, according to foreign media reports.
The new facility is expected to reduce China's large number of casualties in coal mine production.
A total of 2,631 coal miners died in mine accidents last year, down by 18 percent year-on-year, according to official figures released yesterday.
They died in 1,616 coal mine accidents, down 17 percent compared with the previous year.
Among the accidents, the deadliest occurred in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province, claiming 108 lives in November 2009.
Zhao said coal-mine safety made great strides last year, as the average number of deaths dropped to 0.89 for each 1 million tons of coal, compared with 1.18 in 2008.
China's gross crude coal output reached 2.95 billion tons in 2009, official figures show.
North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region received the praise from Zhao for having kept the rate close to zero, or at 0.05. The region last year overtook neighboring Shanxi province as China's largest crude coal producer.
"The achievement is outstanding," work safety director Luo Lin said at yesterday's meeting.
Luo said the autonomous region was able to do so because it invested heavily in work safety.
Zhao estimated that China's crude coal output in 2010 will rise to 3.1 billion tons, putting more pressure on coal-mine safety.
He said more than 4,400 coal mines are expanding or about to boost their capacities.
In addition, the growing depths of pits at China's coal mines add to Zhao's worries.
"The average depth is 456 m," he said. "The deepest goes to 1,365 m."
"It shocked my colleagues in South Africa when I told them that," he added.
Coal miners in South Africa usually stop digging at 350 m underground.
The administration also vowed to tighten controls on small coal mines, which it said accounted for nearly 70 percent of coal-mine deaths last year.
"We must limit the number of small coal mines to 10,000 by the end of this year," added Zhao.
The watchdog closed 1,088 such mines in 2009.