Safety At Work magazine has been reporting on the seemingly endless deaths in the Chinese mining industry for many years. Many of the mine fatalities are of multiples that would generate huge investigations in the west. Many deaths are compounded by the attempts of mine managers to minimise the scale of the disasters by delaying reporting the incident, not reporting at all, or disposing of the bodies.
These incidents have occurred mostly in privately-run mines and over the last couple of years the government has had regular crackdowns on the industry.
China is a good example of a country that manages safety in reaction to disasters. Poor safety management is often ignored as long as production is guaranteed. This is evident in its manufacturing sector as much as it is in mining.
John Garnaut in The Age newspaper on August 4 2008 reports on the actions of the Chinese government in the mining sector in the lead up to the Beijing Olympics. Garnaut reports that migrant workers were sent home weeks ago without pay. At one mine he attended, work was stopped by management, ostensibly due to his presence as a journalist.
The closure of these mines has had a heavy impact on the coal supply and coal prices and Garnaut says that the action of the government has come about to
“prevent the Olympic Games from being marred by embarrassing reports of mine disasters.”
China’s decision shows how sensitive it is to criticism from other countries. The mess over internet access is a further example.
China does not only manage safety reactively, it manages through diversion, concealment and censorship.
What Garnaut’s reporting and China’s censorship shows is that safety of workers, and accountability of business owners can be improved through the attention of outsiders. For over seven years, in my experience, China has been experiencing almost monthly fatalities in its coal industry. I have been publishing whatever reports I can obtain (legitimately) from the wire service, however similar reports have not been appearing in the mainstream, or event the trade, press. The community is generally unaware of the cultural negligence that the Chinese system of production and regulation allows.
Perhaps it is a truth that few of us really care but one of the major threats to any management process is hypocrisy. The Chinese government may be comfortable with that but our own governments should not be hypocrites in our trade negotiations with partners like China.
The Associated Press has reported a gas explosion in a coal mine in at the Baijiagou mine in the northeast of Liaoning province on 18 August 2008. Twenty-four workers are trapped but fifty-six other miners escaped without injury. The story came through the Xinhua News Agency in China, so it will be worth seeing, during this Olympics fervour, what attention this disaster receives from the West