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Accident-riddled mining needs oversight
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-03-05 08:46

Major mining accidents involving large numbers of casualties and heavy economic losses have occurred with alarming frequency over the past year. The central government is moving to improve the problem-riddled mining industry. Here are some Chinese media excerpts.

China News Week: It is noticeable that, different from previous years, most of the serious mining accidents last year occurred at State-owned large mines.

To curb the safety problems and reduce such accidents, contract terms should be longer to encourage firms to invest more in safety; the government should give miners more help to negotiate with enterprises for their interests and rights; and, supervisory departments should perform their duties as stern judges.

Besides institutional reforms, compensation standards for victims in mining accidents should be increased. The compensation cannot only be enough to console the families of the victims, it should be high enough to press the mine owners to improve worksite safety.

The government is now considering a unified standards. If enterprises are fully responsible for accidents, the highest compensation for a young miner should equal his average wages for 20 years. The current standard equals only wages for four to five years.

 The 20-year-wage standard should be set as the minimum level.

A new safety regulation put into use at the end of last year in Shanxi Province rules that the compensation for each miner who dies in a mine accident should be no less than 200,000 yuan (US$24,180). Such a standard may produce a deterrent effect within the industry.

The government should not restrain victims and their families from asking for the highest level of compensation. The court should also support their requests for more as a penalty to mining enterprises and negligent supervisory departments.

Currently, compensation only means money for those miners who died in the workplace. More should be paid as a penalty for neglecting safety controls. Mining enterprises and supervisory departments are both responsible for accidents.

Miners and their families' exercising their rights to negotiate for compensation and reparations can exert force on enterprises and supervisory departments. It is the basic drive to develop a pro-human working environment in the mining industry.

Outlook Weekly: Against the general trend of streamlining government departments, the State Council decided to upgrade the State Administration of Production Safety into the General Administration of Production Safety (GAPS) last month, and the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety is included in its jurisdiction.

Such a move shows the seriousness of work safety issues and the central government's determination to curb the problems. And it sets higher requirements for the GAPS.

Various accidents have haunted the coal mining industry in recent years. Work safety issues have become a source of problems undermining a harmonious society.

The upgrade of GAPS comes at the right time and shows the increased importance attached to work safety issues.

Now, as the organization is upgraded, GAPS should shoulder more responsibilities. The public should expect the improvements in work safety situation.

Sometimes the performance of an organization cannot match its ranking. High-level organizations may just be riddled with bureaucratic practices. Accountability systems help to restrain such practices to a certain degree. But more efforts are needed to correlate rights and responsibilities.

Insufficient supervision and lax law enforcement are also important reasons for the frequent occurrences of mining accidents. The upgrade of GAPS should be able to enhance the authoritativeness of supervision and increase the power of law enforcement. But such functions are still being tested.

China Radio International: According to a decision made by the State Council, Liu Guoqiang, who as vice-governor of the Northeast China's Liaoning Province, was in charge of industry and work safety, has been suspended after the colliery gas blast at Sunjiawan Coal Mine that killed 214 miners on February 14.

It is a significant and inspiring decision. When the country's mining industry is riddled with unceasing accidents, it brings some hope for the solving of the most serious problem a lack of human initiative to curb these accidents.

An accountability system that holds high-level government officials responsible for accidents is vital.

It urges officials to shift their attention from punishment afterwards to supervision at the source.

Enhanced supervision on market entry and implementation of safety rules will help prevent accidents.

It reflects the government's active response to public opinion and an unprecedented concern for human life.

The accountability system also reminds us that institutional and judicial improvements are needed to curb mining accidents. Government officials' negligence to foreseeable accidents should be ruled on by legal means.

Accountability systems show the development of democracy and legal supervision in China.

To better prevent accidents, those who are held responsible should not only face administrative punishment but also legal redress.

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Target: Cut workplace fatalities