Monday, November 23, 2009

Just Another Statistic

So far 104 miners are dead after a gas explosion in a state-owned  coal mine in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Some of the rescued miners recall hearing a giant bang and then a strong gas that knocked them out. The lucky ones who came to tried to escape right away.

Bad management has been blamed for the accident, though many thought the Xinxing Coal Mine would be one of the safer ones, with an 84-year history and run by the government.

But what does that mean, bad management?

Does it mean senior managers didn't give their staff the best equipment available, or they didn't have enough experience to know a gas explosion could occur in those conditions? Does it mean there shouldn't have been 528 people working underground at 2:30am?

Also, when was the mine last inspected? If it was given a good evaluation recently, it shows the government isn't doing enough either in terms of setting stricter standards, or isn't making sure its prescribed measures are implemented.

While President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao expressed concern over the accident, Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang was sent to the site to oversee rescue efforts, but really, what can a senior government official do except encourage the rescue teams and console the families?

Probably what is even more distressing is how the general public are resigned to the fact that these coal mining accidents happen so often.

The government claims China reported 286 fewer mining-related accidents and 591 fewer deaths compared with the same period last year, a drop of 25 percent. And last year's coal mine deaths were 46.7 percent fewer than in 2004, according to figures released by the State Administration of Work Safety.

However, no one should die from a work-related accident.

And these miners, who are paid to dig out coal to fuel 75 percent of China's power deserve more than being just a statistic. They lost their lives trying to provide for their families with their meagre wages. There has been no word yet on how much compensation families of the victims will receive.

While the government is shutting down smaller mines, there needs to be more stringent standards. Lessons learned from previous accidents, or best practices must be shared and applied to other mines, and inspected regularly. With President Hu pushing for "scientific development", mining safety should be one of his priorities, since technological innovation and research can help save more lives, let along make coal extraction more precise or efficient.

Or is the government sending a signal that some lives are worth more than others?

1 comment:

gung said...

china has the worst mining fatality record in the world. instead of spending resources for national day parade why not divert it to better mining facilities?