China Worker Safety Agency Warns of Possible Wave of Mining Accidents

February 19, 2008

China’s work safety agency warned that a new wave of accidents could be triggered as coal mines shut by the wintry weather resume operations.

The State Administration of Work Safety warned on its Web site that the buildup of deadly gases, flooding and unstable power supply at the mines could all cause problems.

Nearly 1,800 mines in the southern provinces of Jiangxi, Hunan, Guizhou and Yunnan — all hit hard by freak snowstorms — have accumulated gases because they were forced to shut down because of power cuts, it said. Another 600 mines have been flooded.

“Because of the effects of the weather, many coal mines lost power and had to shut. Others closed over the Lunar New Year holiday, and small mines are starting to open again after the vacation, putting huge pressures on safety,” the agency said.

“Power supplies to coal mines in disaster-hit provinces are not operating normally, leading to many hidden dangers,” it warned.

Heavy ice and snow storms during January and through the Lunar New Year this month paralyzed much of China’s rail and road transport, froze power grids and stranded hundreds of thousands of people heading home for the holiday.

In a related development, the agency denied that the current coal shortage was due to the closure of small, illegal pits.

“China is not short of coal as the country turned out 2.53 billion tons last year, a rise of 8.2 percent year on year. Output could jump by 3.3 percent this year,” said agency spokesman Huang Yi in a recent online interview.

Last month, the government reported that it had shut down more than 11,000 illegal coal mines as part of a two-year-old safety crackdown aimed at stemming the industry’s high death toll.

China’s coal mining industry is the world’s deadliest, with accidents claiming nearly 3,800 lives last year, down 20 percent from 2006.

China relies on coal to keep its economy steaming ahead, and mining operators routinely cut corners on safety to cash in on high prices and soaring demand.

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