Rooting out deadly coal mine accidents
The nation has been thrown into unfathomable grief in the wake of the Sunjiawan coal mine gas explosion in Northeast China's Liaoning Province on February 14.
The death toll had risen to 210 by yesterday afternoon, five others remained missing.
Spring Festival has not ended in the traditional sense. Many people are still steeped in the lingering festive happiness while families of the more than 200 dead have to bear helplessly the agony of losing their beloved ones.
We hope relatives of the lost workers will be properly settled and the cause of the tragedy be clarified soon.
Knowing why this has happened may help us prevent more such disasters.
Admittedly, lessons are being drawn from previous tragedies.
Supervision has been strengthened continually. And a slew of laws and regulations have been put in place to promote work safety.
Despite all this, last year saw the country's most lethal - at the end of the year - coal mine accident in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, claiming 166 lives. At the same time, another accident in Henan killed 147.
The whole year of 2004 saw 6,027 miners killed. The figure is appalling.
The situation prompts us to dig deeper into the issue.
We used to point the finger at the avarice of private mine owners seeking profits at the sacrifice of miners' safety. Defying our habitual assumption that small private collieries are the source of evil, however, the three major accidents, including the current one, have all happened in standard State collieries.
It indicates something is wrong in the whole industry it lacks adequate safety input.
The State used to subsidize industrial safety in the planned economy period. Since the 1993 corporate reforms, collieries have been required to put aside capital to finance work safety by themselves.
Unfortunately, the 1990s saw sluggish demand for coal and declining prices, which made mine owners unable to refurbish their safety equipment.
It is estimated that the country's key State coal mines owe a debt of 50 billion yuan (US$6 billion) in safety investment.
Without filling the yawning gap, it is impossible to root out accidents that cause heavy casualties.
The State is expected not to pour much fiscal capital into the sector, which is deemed as commercial after a series of market-oriented reforms in recent years.
What it should strengthen is its supervisory role. Adequate put-asides must be guaranteed, which is no longer a mission impossible as coal prices soar.
Past experiences show owners of small mines tend to skimp on money for safety input while some large State collieries are equally unwilling to put in extra money, which increases their production costs and worsens their balance sheets during industrial doldrums.
Central and local safety regulators must play a strong role in both cases.
In other cases, financial weakness of some inefficient State collieries goes against their wish to increase safety input. The State could consider launching ownership structure reforms to introduce more non-State funds to replenish the safety funds of the capital-thirsty collieries.
Whatever the cases, the State must strengthen supervision and production safety law must be unswervingly enforced - for the sake that no more avoidable accidents occur.
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