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China cracks down on coal mine safety

September 2, 2005
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China has ordered 7,000 coal mines to suspend operations by the end of the year as deaths from accidents linked to poor safety standards soar, state media reported.

The closures would leave a huge number of miners jobless, but coal supply would only be slightly affected because most of the pits involved were small, the China Daily said.

China's coal industry provides 70 percent of the country's energy needs, but many mines operate illegally with little interest in worker safety in order to meet booming demand.

In the first half of the year alone, official statistics show China recorded 2,700 mining fatalities, although the China Daily said 18 miners died every day in the first six months, which equates to 3,285 deaths.

Independent estimates say the real figure could be far higher as mines often falsify death counts to escape closures and fines.

The State Administration of Coal Mine Safety yesterday published the first group of 1,324 mines that are required to stop production and meet national safety standards. If they do not, they will be shut down permanently.

"The number is not all of the mines on the suspension list; the total will reach 7,000 soon," the administration's press officer told the newspaper.

Administration figures indicate that China has about 24,000 coal mines, but because of the transient nature of mining employment no official statistics on the number of workers are available.

The administration spokeswoman said the responsibility to monitor the suspensions and supervise safety improvements would fall on local governments.

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