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The Most Dangerous Job in China
Death Toll Grows in Latest Chinese Mine Explosion
By Peter McCrossan
Staff Writer
Chinese coal miners

Following the Nov. 27, 2005 explosion at a coal mine in North East China, 134 people are now confirmed death with 15 miners still unaccounted for.

The disaster is another reminder of the deadly nature of Chinese coal-mines which suffer from fire, cave ins, flooding and explosions almost daily. Government efforts to reduce the yearly death toll appear to be stifled by China's astronomical energy needs.

Eighty percent of the country's energy comes from coal. This is more than double the global average. All the current safety figures indicate that corners are being cut in order to maximize supply.

Each year thousands of miners lose their lives despite repeated Government pledges to improve safety standards. In the wake of yesterday's tragedy President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao urged officials to curb the "possible occurrence of big safety accidents which claim huge casualties and property losses," the state-run newspaper China Daily said.

The problem is that while the government has some control over safety in large, state owned coal-mines, they retain virtually no control over small private mines where the majority of accidents occur. Of more than 6,000 miners killed last year only around 1,700 worked in the bigger state run mines which are more likely to have advanced safety equipment and training procedures.

Apart from the massive yearly death toll some 600,000 miners to date are reported to be suffering from pneumoconiosis, a lung disease triggered by long-continued inhalation of dust. This figure is growing by 70,000 miners every year.

Investment in new technology and training would appear to be crucial in order to reverse the current trend, in addition to more frequent and rigorous safety inspections. Modern safety equipment requires substantial capital investment. The majority of China's mines are small-scale operations, many of which seem content to trust in luck and avoid such expense.

Given the exponential rate of growth of the Chinese economy coal production will similarly increase as China possess' only limited supplies of oil and gas. Despite government pledges and limited action taken much more remains to be done if the deadly nature of life in China's coal-mines has any chance of substantial reduction.

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Mr. Peter McCrossan serves as staff writer for The Seoul Times. The Irish journalist studied computer science at University College Dublin. Mr. McCrossan covers diplomatic community affairs, travel & hotel industry, and local social issues.






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