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    Human factors behind accidents

2005-11-29 06:42

China has suffered heavily in recent days from both natural and man-made disasters. The authorities, as usual, have emphasized that relentless efforts must be made to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.

The disasters range from earthquake, coal mine flooding and explosion and road accident, to chemical plant explosion and the leaking of chemical pollutants. The latest is a coal mine blast in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province on Sunday evening, trapping more than 100 miners.

While natural disasters, such as earthquakes, can hardly be predicted and prevented given human limitations, most of the man-made accidents can be avoided if proper measures are taken beforehand.

For coal mine accidents, there is consensus that effective regulation, increased safety standards and technological upgrading can at least greatly reduce the death toll. Previous experiences show that failure to meet these requirements accounts for most of the coal mine accidents in which human factors play a big role.

In the Qinyuan road accidents in North China's Shanxi Province, a heavy-duty truck killed 20 young people and a teacher after it ploughed into a group of students jogging along the road, a place usually not for exercise. The tragedy could have well been avoided if the students had a playground for sports, or if the driver had been more careful.

In the chemical blast in Jilin City, Northeast China's Jilin Province, workers' botched handling of equipment blockage was the main culprit. And failure to take immediate follow-up action to prevent chemical pollutants from leaking into the water and to disclose information in a timely way led to the toxic spill that forced Harbin of Heilongjiang Province in the downstream to cut water supply for four days.

Such disasters are obviously not the result of ill fortune or fate. They are preventable.

The central authorities are serious about the prevention of such man-made disasters. They release circulars on safety awareness. They make regular on-spot checks. And they are now increasing material inputs to improve safety facilities.

But these measures are not enough, as shown by the repeated deadly accidents in recent years.

Preventative measures cannot be effective if they are confined to the sphere of administrative regulation. Economic and political factors are often decisive factors.

The "GDP mania," or preoccupation with gross domestic product growth, has contributed to the ignorance of work safety, pollution and educational needs, in some cases.

In Qinyuan, for example, it is undisputable that inadequate attention to education is behind the ridiculous shortage of playground in middle school.

As the economy gobbles up huge amount of coal to drive its growth, prices of the fuel have soared, which has prompted coal mine owners to increase output regardless of production capacities. So the improvement in the efficiency of economic growth will help reduce coal mine accidents.

Politically, the link of some officials with coal mine owners and the government's excessive interference in economic activities in some places have loosened regulation when it is indispensable to ensure work safety.

Cutting the undesirable link between government and economy is the ultimate goal of our market-based economic reform. It also has a bearing on curbing fatal accidents.

All these factors are, seemingly, not related to the prevention of accidents. But they do have a fundamental impact on the issue.

(China Daily 11/29/2005 page4)


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