Rules to target 'irresponsible' officials
Hoping to prevent workplace injuries and deaths, legislators are being called on to back the "take blame and resign" system with laws.
"Take blame and resign" is an initiative of the central government which puts responsibility for accidents on officials in charge.
Zhao Tiechui, deputy director of the State Administration of Work Safety, said the system encourages officials to stay on top of work safety issues while showing the government's concern for people's lives.
The problem, however, is that "we do not have legislation to regulate the system."
So Zhao's administration is moving to draft a regulation to conduct independent investigations into workplace injuries.
"It will be finished this year and then we will have more weapons in hand to punish irresponsible officials," said Zhao.
Zhao said the idea is to make "take the blame and resign" a widely accepted practice by creating the necessary rules and regulations to enforce it.
This year, three separate tragedies in Southwest China's Chongqing, Northeast China's Jilin Province and Beijing, resulted in the resignation of officials blamed.
Another motivation to strengthen the system is China's poor work and traffic safety record.
Although there was a modest decline in the number of accidents and fatalities this year, "the situation is still grave," said Zhao.
He said there are an average of 960,000 accidents every year that kill at least 136,000 people and leave 700,000 injured.
The incidents result in losses of as much as 250 billion yuan (US$30 billion), equal to 2.5 per cent of the nation's total economic output.
"China, with its per capita GDP just surpassing US$1,000, is now plunged in a difficult period when all sorts of workplace accidents may occur," said Zhao.
Increased enforcement of "take blame and resign" is not the only step his administration is taking.
One plan is to increase supervision and carry out more spot checks on some key industries, such as coal mining and factories that produce dangerous chemicals. Road safety will also be targeted.
Another move will focus on prevention.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety was set up recently to conduct research on safety management at home and abroad.
"It should act as special think-tank to set up an efficient national work safety network."
Still, despite the growing focus on work safety, many local officials and company managers pay little or no attention to it, Zhao said, leading to an unacceptably large loss of life.
Motivated by greed, many owners of small coal mines, often operating illegally, turn a deaf ear to the repeated warnings from work safety authorities. As a result many avoidable accidents occur, said Zhao.
"Some mine owners care more for money than they do for the lives of people," he said.
"Of the 36 township coal mines where serious accidents occurred last year, 19 did not have production licences and ignored orders to stop production."
But it was not only illegal operations that came in for some tough criticism from the ministry.
A number of State-owned mines and companies were severely punished for flouting safety regulations due to sloppy management practices, said Zhao.
Administration spokesman Huang Yi said that the majority of joint ventures in China attach greater importance to work safety than their domestic counterparts.
To further improve their work safety, a growing number of joint ventures seek advice from Zhao's administration on relevant Chinese laws, Huang said.