According to the Chinese State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), the number of Chinese mining deaths in 2012 dropped 29.9 percent from the previous year, from 1,973 deaths in 2011 to 1,384 in 2012, reported Radio Free Asia. SAWS cited increased safety efforts and the elimination of smaller mines as some of the leading causes for the drop in mining deaths.
In Shanxi, China's second largest region of coal production that unearths one quarter of the country's coal, a campaign to improve mines has significantly decreased the number of accidents and deaths, reported the Global Times. In 2012, 83 miners were killed in Shanxi, down from previous years when deaths topped 100. The campaign closed down small and illegal mines and phased out others that produced less than 300,000 tons of coal annually, making the country's industry easier to regulate and monitor.
Tim Wright, a China coal mining expert and professor at the University of Sheffield, told Radio Free Asia that the number of mining deaths being reported by Chinese officials is lower than the number of deaths that are occurring. He said that a 30 percent drop in fatalities over one year is hard to believe. Radio Free Asia also pointed out that there have been several instances of Chinese officials covering up mining accidents.
Improving safety in Chinese mines
Many of the mining deaths have been linked to equipment failure or malfunction. SAWS said that 93 percent of major gas explosions were caused by problems with ventilation systems which could have been prevented if the systems had been better monitored and maintained.
Education and lack of knowledge have also been cited as safety problems. Wu Zongzhi, director of the China Academy of Safety Science and Technology, told the China Youth Daily that mining in China is overseen primarily by management personnel without safety expertise as well as temporary workers that aren't knowledgeable about mining safety. This can lead to unsafe mining practices and deaths, reported the Global Times.
Mining officials could improve safety in Chinese coal mines by mandating the use of better monitoring equipment. Predictive maintenance uses sensors to monitor how well equipment or systems are working, compiles information about the equipment in a database and makes it easier for technicians to diagnose problems and schedule maintenance based on the severity of the problem. This cuts down on unplanned downtime and also decreases equipment-related accidents.
Xinhua, a Chinese state-run news organization, emphasized that the number of Chinese mining deaths is still too high, and is much higher than the number of mining deaths in the United States. In 2012, there were 19 deaths in U.S. coal mines according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration.