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Accident accountability

Updated: 2013-07-08 07:15
( China Daily)

The dust seems to have finally settled nowthe State Council has approved investigation reports on two major recent industrial accidents in Jilin province and determined liability.

Both accidents, one at a local coal mine in March that claimed 36 lives and injured 12, the other at a poultry processing facility in June that killed 121 people and left 76 injured, were found to be "particularly severe accidents induced by human error". As a result, 35 people, including corporate managers and government officials, are under criminal investigation, 73 others have been given disciplinary penalties.

The government of Jilin province received harsh criticism and a number of intermediate-level officials were removed from their positions. And more, including two of its deputy governors, received demerits.

True, no one has resigned as a result of the tragedies, though negligence was an obvious factor behind both, which has inspired talk about the effrontery of present-day officials. But the fact that no level of authority has been excluded consolidates the message that public office-holders must be faithful to their duties.

The criminal investigations yet to begin are likely to reveal the problem behind the scenes, as similar tragedies in the past led to corruption charges. Such a possibility deserves being put under a special spotlight in the judicial proceedings. This is not only about the public's right to know, it is equally important to the national leadership's high-profile campaign against corruption and public confidence in it.

Besides examination of the specific causes of such fatal tragedies, the scrutiny and soul-searching should also include careful review of the safety mechanisms at work.

There is the worrisome pattern of collective irresponsibility exposed in such tragedies. As was found in both accidents, managers and officials neglected safety rules.

The poultry processing facility, for instance, had not fulfilled its safety responsibilities, local fire prevention departments had been lax in supervision, quality oversight was absent in the construction of the plant, the health and safety watchdog had neglected its obligations, and local governments had disregarded workers' safety.

Work safety checks are underway in Jilin and across the country, and there can be little doubt a campaign like this will show a positive outcome for a certain period of time.

But unless safety becomes a true priority for local governments, the sustainability of these outcomes is questionable.

(China Daily 07/08/2013 page8)