BEIJING - The latest central government regulation to take effect on Oct 7 might place coal mine leaders in a position where they are forced to choose whether they value their lives or their assets, if they remain reluctant to improve pit safety.
The regulation, issued on Thursday by the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) and the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, requires mine leaders to descend below ground and ascend to the surface again at the same time as miners.
Otherwise, the mine will face a fine up to 5 million yuan ($737,000) if any accident occurs, the regulation stipulates.
In the event of an accident, mine leaders will also be fined up to 80 percent of their annual income from the previous year, the Beijing-based Mirror Evening News reported on Thursday, citing sources from the SAWS.
Pit leaders who neglect to accompany miners below ground and back to the surface will face a fine of 150,000 yuan, even if no accident has taken place, and receive administrative punishments ranging from warnings to dismissal, according to the report.
Industry insiders said compensation for a miner's loss of life in a private pit runs from 400,000 to 500,000 yuan, slightly higher than in State-owned enterprises, though the amount may vary by region.
The State Administration of Coal Mine Safety further requires that at least five mine leaders accompany miners into the shaft every month on a rotation basis, the Mirror Evening News reported.
Duty leaders' names and records of compliance with the regulation are to be publicly displayed in prominent positions at mine entrances, the report said.
Work safety in China is in a grave condition. SAWS director Luo Lin said the death toll from major accidents in the country from January to late August this year has been "equal to or closing in on" the 1,128 people killed all of last year.
The latest mining accident occurred on Thursday in Southwest China's Yunnan province, when a gas explosion ripped through a coal mine, leaving seven miners dead and 12 others injured, according to local authorities.
The accident occurred at about 9:40 am in a pit at the Ma'anshan Coal Mine in Luxi county, the county publicity department said.
Twenty-nine miners were working underground at the time of the explosion. Ten escaped without injury, while another 12 were treated in hospital after being rescued.
The remaining seven were brought to the surface after dying from suffocation. The cause of the accident remains under investigation.
The regulation has been issued amid rising public concern that there are no serious punitive measures to compel mine leaders to descend into the shafts with miners - as the State Council had required earlier.
Even if mine leaders go below ground with the miners, whether they stay at the coalface with them and share the same level of risk has yet to be resolved.
The issue has come to the fore after two mine leaders managed to escape death when water gushed into a coal mine on July 31 in Heilongjiang province, killing the other 24 workers still underground.
China Central Television reported that the officials were not remaining at the same level of risk as the miners at the coalface, situating themselves "close to the exit".