February 22, 2011
Safety and Health Issues in the China Coal Mining Industry
The country of China is a world juggernaut in the industry of coal mining. China alone produces roughly one-third of the world economy’s coal. This is largely due to the industrial revolution that has been taking place in China over the past decade which requires a very high energy demand, but being on top of the world production of coal has come with a colossal price. Not only is China leading the world in production for coal, but it also leads the world in coal mining related fatalities.
The death toll in China coal mines over the past decade has accounted for nearly 80% of the total deaths related to coal miners around the world (Xiaohui). Most of these deaths can be contributed to a two main sources, these sources being dust exposure and methane explosions. The biggest killer of these two sources is dust exposure followed by the methane explosions.
The continued exposure to coal dust can cause a disease known as pneumoconiosis, more commonly known as black lung disease. In China, nearly 2.7 million coal miners are exposed to dust. Of these 2.7 million, it is estimated that 57,000 miners will suffer from pneumoconiosis each year. Ultimately, 6,000 of those affected by pneumoconiosis will die each year. In 2009, roughly 1,600 coal miners were killed in accidents (Magistad). Even though it is a large number, it is nowhere as staggering as the 6,000 that were estimated to die from the black lung disease. (“57,000 Chinese”)
Methane explosions are the second leading killer of Chinese coal miners. These can be attributed to mine operators wanting to produce more coal then they have been approved for per year. In 2004, the Daping coal mine that had been approved for an annual capacity of 900,000 tons, had mined 960,000 tons through September of that year. The mine had a methane ignition on October 20, 2004 which ended up fatally injuring 148 workers. The amped up production can cause a lax in the safety aspect of mining, which can cause a mine to become more susceptible to ignition. This was also the case when the Sunjiawan coal mine explosion killed 214 miners on February 14, 2005. (Bone and Blood 7)
There are a few major issues that contribute to these disasters happening. One of the major issues regarding the health and safety of the miners is the lack of enforcement of the regulations by the people employed by the government to help enforce these laws. Many of the government officials who are supposed to be inspecting and making sure mines are not run illegally are corrupt. These officials either operate coal mines or have relatives who operate illegal mines. Also they flout regulations and abuse their authority to review and approve mines in exchange for the bribes from mine operators. The officials have been known to turn a blind eye to help conceal illegally run mines, and they take part in or help in covering in accidents that have happened. Another way these officials can be corrupt are they can own part of the coal mine shares so they do not want anything to stop them from producing coal. (Blood and Bone 12)
Another issue regarding the coal industry in China is the contract system that has been used for distributing the coal reserves. Many small and medium sized coal mines were contracted out to private entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs would then turn around and contract different parts of the operation out to other contractors, such as labor contractors. The government officials that are supposed to uphold the laws for this mine will then invest and become a shareholder in the mine and in exchange for the profit will provide protect the mines from legal scrutiny. This contract system as fallacies in itself but this can also fall back on the lack of unbiased representation by the government. (Bone and Blood 13)
In an interview with the spokesman of the State...