Tag Archives: Coal Mining

2NON.ORG X-POST: The Real Danger in China’s Mines

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Mr. Hao is going back to work. The mines have opened again, and his family needs the money. He tells us this, but he also asks us not to tell his son that after what proved to be a very short retirement, he’s headed back down into a coal mine.

Hao, who asked that he be identified only by his surname, is a coal miner in Hegang, a mining town in northeastern Heilongjiang province. Like many of the miners in Hegang, Hao is employed at small bituminous coal mine by one of the dozens of private mining companies that operate the area’s hundred or so mines. His mine employs a few hundred people, most of whom — like Mr. Hao — work below the surface.

As an older man, Hao makes 2,000 RMB (about $320) a month doing lighter, logistical tasks like drilling and lighting explosives, but he tells us that young workers capable of withstanding long hours of heavy labor can make more than double that. What nearly all workers at his mine have in common is that they spend their days — or in some cases, nights — in pitch-dark coal mines far below the earth’s surface. Even meals are eaten down there, together, in the black.

***

Miners in Hegang emerge from the depths.

Coal mining is a dangerous profession, and China’s coal mines are notoriously perilous. In the ten year span between 2001 and 2011, more than 47,670 Chinese coal miners were killed in mining accidents (for reference, that death toll is approximately equivalent to 11 Chernobyl accidents, or 32 Hurricane Katrinas). Over that same time period, the Chinese government took significant steps to make coal mining safer, and by 2010, China was clocking just under 2,433 coal mining deaths per year, down from nearly 6,000 deaths in 2003.

Even so, Chinese mines are still incredibly dangerous; China accounts for 40 percent of the world’s coal production but nearly 80 percent of its coal mining deaths. When we asked Mr. Hao about his own mine, he told us that it was “relatively safe.” Collapses have happened, but there weren’t many in the mines that he had worked in. “At our mine, there haven’t been many,” he told us, “but other mines have collapsed.”

Hao may have been slightly underselling the point. In fact, Hegang — the town Mr. Hao has lived and mined in for more than thirty years — was the site of one of the worst mining accidents in recent memory. In November of 2009, a Hegang mine exploded, killing 108 miners and injuring 133 more. A subsequent investigation found that the executives in charge of the mine, which was administered by a subsidiary of the Heilongjiang Mining Group, had repeatedly refused orders to cease production in order to implement safety procedures. In early 2012, after a lengthy court process, the mine’s two chief executives were both sentenced to seven years in prison.

Privately-owned coal mines must technically be certified for safety by government inspectors before being legally allowed to operate, but the process is vulnerable to corruption, or even outright circumvention. Mr. Hao tells us that the mine he works in is properly certified. “But there are also mines without these certifications,” he admits. Often, those uncertified mines are the most dangerous.

Even with the recent advances made in safety procedures, it’s clear that China’s government is still concerned about the issue. Coal mines nationwide were shut down for this November’s leadership transition, in part because a major mining disaster during the festivities would have been disruptive and embarassing. In Hegang, Hao says, all the mines were shut down, and when we spoke with his family the first time, the mines hadn’t reopened and he was considering not going back.

His son, who works in Beijing, was overjoyed at the news of his father’s retirement from the coal mining profession, which he knows can be extremely dangerous. When we spoke to Mr. Hao again in a subsequent interview and he told us he planned to begin mining again, he also asked that we not tell his son, who — if he ever finds out — is likely to be equal parts worried and livid.

Both father and son are intimately aware of the immediate dangers presented by coal mining; Hao himself was once seriously injured on the job when a cart fell onto his leg at the end of a shift. But when we ask about other health risks, both men talk about the food (which apparently is quite disgusting, and often covered in soot). Neither of them mention cancer.

***

Rescued coal miners are treated after the 2009 explosion in Hegang.

According to data released by the Chinese Ministry of Health in 2011, cancer is China’s leading cause of death. Among cancers, lung cancer is now the most common, and lung cancer rates have been growing with alarming speed. The five-fold growth in rates since the 1970s might be partially attributable to smoking, but lung cancer rates in Beijing have climbed by 60 percent over the past decade despite a lack of change in smoking rates.

Coal-burning power plants and coal stoves are among the contributors to the thick clouds of smog that cloak many of China’s cities, and are almost certainly affecting cancer rates there. But as grim as the pollution situation is in cities, miners in towns like Hegang are actually much worse off, even if they don’t smoke or cook with coal at home.

There are three kinds of coal that are commonly mined; bituminous coal (also known as “black coal”), lignite (“brown coal”), and anthracite (sometimes called “clean coal”). China’s production of anthracite and lignite has increased in recent years, but both still account for a relatively minor percentage of the country’s coal production (18.5 and 13.5 percent, respectively). The vast majority (69.2 percent) of China’s coal mining operations, including those in Hegang, are mining bituminous coal.

Unfortunately, studies have shown bituminous coal dust to be remarkably carcinogenic. A 2012 study of homes in Xuanwei, China, found that people whose households cooked with bituminous coal are far more likely to develop lung cancer (18-20% likely) than those who did not (0.5% likely). Men are 36 times more likely to die of lung cancer if they lived in homes that cooked with bituminous coal; women are 99 times more likely. Unsurprisingly, these results are also apparent in miners; a 2011 study of coal miners in Xuanwei found that coal miners also are at increased risk of lung cancer, and that the younger a miner starts and the longer he stays in the mines, the more likely he is to develop cancer. Specific rates varied based on subjects’ family histories and exposure to carcinogens outside of work, but in general, coal miners were found to be at least twice as likely to develop lung cancer as regular citizens, and in some instances the increase in risk for miners was even higher.

Cancer isn’t the only disease coal miners are at serious risk of contracting, either. Pneumoconiosis, better known as Black Lung Disease, kills thousands of Chinese coal miners each year. Other potentially-deadly lung diseases, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, also seem to kill coal miners at a higher-than-average rate.

All of the miners we spoke to, including Mr. Hao, were aware that breathing in coal dust wasn’t great for your lungs, but none of them were aware that their work seriously elevated their risk of developing lung cancer. Some told us that they had noticed a lot of coworkers came down with respiratory illnesses sooner or later, but some said they hadn’t noticed any particular patterns of illness.

Small coal mines in China are often poorly-ventilated, and there’s only so much you can ventilate a deep coal mine, anyway. Mr. Hao’s son told us that his father and other miners do sometimes wear masks, but that isn’t much consolation:

[The masks] are completely useless. Coal dust is everywhere, you can’t prevent yourself from breathing it […] When my father comes home at the end of the day he is completely covered in black dust. Coal soot gets on his face, in his nostrils, in his ears, in his eyes…sometimes you can’t even wash all of it off.

The soot also gets in his lungs, of course, and with thirty years of mining already under his belt, Mr. Hao — who has not been screened — has a high risk of developing lung cancer even if he never sets foot in a coal mine again. He knows coal mining is a deadly profession, and is grateful to have made it this far without any major accidents. But though the number of deadly accidents is dropping, cancer risk rates climb with each successive year a miner works. Many miners who escape being buried alive or killed in explosions will ultimately still fall victim to coal mining’s slowest and quietest danger: lung cancer.

When a miner gets cancer, or even gets injured on the job, results can vary. Mr. Hao tells us smaller mining companies don’t provide mine workers with insurance, or even regular contracts, so if you get sick, whether or not you’ll get financial help with your medical bills from the company is very much up for grabs. In his experience, Hao tells us, the people who get larger compensation settlements tend to be the people capable of making a fuss and causing trouble for the company if their demands aren’t met. If you and your family members can’t raise a stink, he says, you’ll get less money.

In his own case, Hao was able to get some compensation for his leg injury, but not enough to cover his bills. The company said that by riding a cart out of the mine at the end of the day when another cart crushed his leg, he was violating company policy. Hao contends that requiring miners to walk out of the mine at the end of a shift is unsafe, as the climb is dark and perilous and the workers are generally exhausted, but he still wound up paying some of the cost for his treatment out of pocket. If Hao does develop lung cancer or another mining-related illness, he will likely face the same problem all over again.

***China has made great progress in reducing the number of accidents in coal mines, but it will also need to address the environmental and health risks the mining of coal, especially bituminous coal, produces. In addition to higher risks of lung diseases and cancer both among miners and anyone who breathes in coal soot on a regular basis, and in addition to the clouds of soot shrouding most of China’s major cities, coal mining can have a devastating affect on the environment in other ways.

For example, coal mining is extremely water-intensive, and coal mining operations can exacerbate droughts and disrupt local ecosystems. This can lead to desertification, especially in China’s far West, where coal is easy to find but water is in short supply. Already, wetlands and grasslands in Inner Mongolia and elsewhere have been dried up and destroyed to support coal mining.

Deadly and destructive though it may be, China will not — cannot — kick its reliance on coal anytime soon. Coal still generates 80 percent of China’s electricity, and though the country has invested heavily in green technologies like wind and solar power, its rapidly-growing energy needs have offset the gains from those fields, meaning that green energy development has not really affected the power industry’s demand for coal.

If China must rely on coal, it should continue to address the plague of deadly explosions and collapses that remains prevalent, especially in illegal mines, but it must also push to improve health standards for coal miners. There are ways to do this, like mandating better ventilation, high-quality respirators, and even dust monitors that warn miners when they’re breathing too much coal dust.

The government could also move beyond prevention and attempt to do something for the miners who have already contracted lung diseases related to their contact with coal. Mandating that all companies — even the small private mines — provide real medical insurance that shields workers from heavy financial burdens in the event of work-related accidents and illnesses would be a good start. Lower medical bills will likely be little consolation to the thousands and thousands of miners who will be killed by lung cancer, black lung, and other respiratory illnesses over the coming decades, but it would, Mr. Hao agrees, be better than nothing.

By C. Custer and L. Li, with additional reporting by Jonathan Silin.

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Coal Mining in China By The Numbers

This morning I came across this story on Twitter about China’s most recent coal mining disaster, with forty miners trapped. Coal mining accidents are common here, so common in fact that this is not even the first major accident of this month. A cave-in in Henan trapped 45 miners underground a few days ago, although luckily thanks to a daring rescue only eight people died.

That and the ensuing discussion led me to this post, which cites that between 2001-2011, 47,676 coal miners died in accidents in China. That number is striking, especially given that few among us is likely to be able to recall many of the specifics or details of any of these mining disasters.

As an experiment in comparisons, I decided to try to create an infographic that compared the death toll from coal mining accidents in China over the last decade to events that, at least for Westerners, probably stick more solidly in our memories.

Now, a few disclaimers:

  • Yes, obviously I am aware that coal mining accidents are not the same as any of the other events I use here, for a plethora of reasons. This is a comparison of relative numbers, period.
  • I’m not an expert in coal mining or disasters, but I understand this is getting better, although obviously not nearly fast enough.
  • Shut up, I’m not a graphic designer, and I did this on a computer without Photoshop!
  • If you’re going to repost this, please at least link to ChinaGeeks!

infographic

Puts things in a slightly different perspective, doesn’t it? Somehow, we glaze over these mine accidents, but something tells me if there had been 1,288 Ted Bendys running around over the past decade, we’d be pretty aware of that.

UPDATE: A way better infographic on coal mining in China.

A Murder and Protests in Inner Mongolia

Today on Twitter I saw several interesting messages from @siweiluozi (a must-follow, by the way, and read his blog too if you don’t already) about an incident in Inner Mongolia that apparently led to rather large scale protests the past few days, with the largest being early this morning Beijing time.

What exactly were they protesting, though? I decided to dig more into it. The following is culled together from a variety of sources, and parts of all of it may not be accurate.

The 5/11 Incident

((One of the mysteries I have yet to unravel is why it’s called this since the incident in question reportedly happened on 5/10))

From this blog post, which is private but available via Google Cache:
On May 10, 2011, a vehicle struck and killed a Mongolian herdsman in Xilinguoleimeng, Inner Mongolia. The vehicle belonged to the Spring City Group [a coal mining company] and it was on Mongolian grasslands in defiance [of policy…] destroying the grasslands and having already killed some herdsmen’s cattle and sheep. Repeated attempts by the town government to dissuade [the coal miners from doing this] were ineffective, so the herdsmen tried to block the cars themselves. But one car directly struck a herdsman named Morigen and then dragged him for around 150 meters. He died right there. Two other cars were even blocking police cars that were trying to intervene! The town government is currently thoroughly investigating this incident!I hope the government can handle this case in accordance with the law.

This blog, in non-native English, has a slightly different account of the incident (unedited):

On may 10th, 2011, a village mongolian herdsmen met some Chinese Coal Company clerks, they drove four trucks, and negotiated with them about the problem of indemnity(pay) of mineral land, which belong to mongolian herdsmen, where product minerals.

At about 12:00pm, the negotiation ended with no result. Suddenly, the Chinese Coal Company clerks drove their trucks and shouted “How much money does a mongolian herdsman’s life worth? At most 400,000RMB, drive trucks to kill them and then throw money. Let’s kill! Go!”. Chinese Coal Company clerks said it and then hit to death Mergen, a mongolian man. The four trucks drove over Mergen’s body one by one. When the murder happened, a group of Chinese policeman were present and they kep silence. After this murder, the Chinese Coal Company trucks drove far away soon and never went back, many minutes later, the policemen started to chase after them and then be threatened to go back. That’s all! What a tragedy!

The Protests

Apparently, the government wasn’t resolving things fast enough, because people started taking to the streets, protesting not just Morigen’s death but also the general treatment of Mongolian herdsmen over the years. The Boxun article quoted below also features this Youtube video, of some smaller-scale protest activity on 5/23.

The video itself isn’t particularly informative because there’s no (useful) sound, but in the video’s description, it says that news and opinions about this event were being blocked and deleted online, which may have contributed to what appears to be the increasing anger of the local community, and especially the ethnic Mongolians.

From this Boxun article:
Today [5/25] in the morning when people were going to work, a crowd of over 1,000 mostly comprised of ethnic Mongolians and students from the Mongolian language middle school marched publicly to the government offices in Xilinguoleimeng to offer a petition and protest regarding the killing of ethnic Mongolian Morigen by a Han Chinese driving a coal transport vehicle, as well as the more than sixty years of mistreatment of Mongolian herdsmen.

The above information was leaked to a [Boxun] reporter by a person from Xilinguoleimeng who is currently in Japan researching a Ph.D. He said his family had participated in the protest today. […]
[Participators said] that more than a thousand people gathered at the government office, and asked the leaders to come out to speak with them and to accept the petition. A Han Chinese vice-director came out and met with them and spoke to them in Mandarin, which made them very unsatisfied, and they demanded he go back inside. Finally the tribal leader and vice-director Siqinbilige came out personally and accepted the petition. Then the protesters left. According to locals, this is the biggest Mongolian ethnic rights-protecting protest activity in the area since the cultural revolution.
According to Morigen’s family, his remains were suddenly cremated around 3 A.M. this morning, and the ashes were buried on a hillside with no tombstone, just a small mound of earth. All the later developments were over by 6 AM, and by the morning the armed police and PSB officers had left the vicinity of the government building […] and it seems the government office has now returned to business as usual.

The sudden cremation and burial of Morigen was something the government had agreed on with his mother and widow, but his other relatives disagreed. Additionally,the government gave the family a building of 70 square meters, 560,000 RMB, and Morigen’s child and widow 1800 RMB/month for living expenses.

More on the compensation angle from this blog post:
At noon on Sunday May 22nd, the government of Xilinguoleimeng Xiwuqi ((锡林郭勒盟西乌旗 Obviously the name of a place, but I know nothing about Inner Mongolian geography,perhaps someone more knowledgeable can help)) in Inner Mongolia sent two people with a case containing 560,000 RMB in cash to comfort the bereaved family of Morigen ((Again, this is just the pinyin of the Chinese 莫日根, not sure of the proper spelling)). They gave 170,000 to Morigen’s mother, and the other 390,000 was given to his widow. Mr. Morigen’s family and neighbors all told a Boxun reporter: “This is really out of the ordinarity, we’ve never heard of a situation being resolved this quickly.” They all said they had heard that the compensation of victims for traffic accidents was usually not more than 300,000 RMB, and that one generally had to wait until the court had ruled on the case to receive the money, so they never thought it would come this fast.

Conclusions

That appears to be where the case is now. It’s not clear yet whether locals will be satisfied with this resolution, or whether or not any of the men driving the cars have been or will be punished. It’s also not immediately clear what other requests were in the petition presented this morning by protesters, and whether or not they were granted.

Anyway, if nothing else it seems that after a few days of protests, the government was eager to resolve things quickly rather than just arrest everyone, which is good I guess. I still feel like there are large parts of this story missing (perhaps because they’ve been deleted), so I don’t want to comment much more one way or the other.

I did notice, though, that this is not quite as local an issue as one might originally think. A search for Morigen’s name on Sina Weibo returns the old standard: “In accordance with the relevant legal procedures and policies, your search results cannot be shown.”

If anyone does know and wants to help fill in the blanks, or can confirm some of the real spellings and place names, please do in the comments. More likely spellings appear in that English blog post I linked to, but it’s also full of typos and grammatical errors, so I wasn’t sure whether I should fully trust the spelling.

UPDATE: The South China Morning Post now has a story on this event. Like all their stories, it’s behind a paywall, but here’s the article, which is likely as authoritative a version of this story as we’ll ever get:

Protests after herder is run down by coal truck

Hundreds of ethnic Mongolians protested outside a local government headquarters in Inner Mongolia on Monday, with hundreds of middle school pupils taking to the streets the next day, after a herder was allegedly killed by two Han Chinese truck drivers, a rights watchdog and online postings said.
Unrest is rare in Inner Mongolia, a relatively stable minority region.

According to the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre, protesters gathered outside the main administration office of the Right Ujumchin Banner, while hundreds more were blocked on their way. A banner is the Mongolian equivalent of a county.

The rights group said campuses were guarded by police to prevent student protests. But bloggers who posted online accounts with pictures yesterday said the incident had provoked hundreds of middle school pupils to march to the city-level Xilinhot government office on Tuesday.

The demonstrators were protesting against the brutal death of Mergen, an organiser of the banner’s Mongolian herders, who tried to stop coal-hauling trucks from taking a shortcut across fragile grazing land, the centre said.

The centre posted photos of Monday’s demonstration and others said to be of Mergen’s body. It said his head had been crushed under the wheels of a 100-tonne coal hauler driven by two Han Chinese drivers on May 10 and his body dragged by the truck for 150 metres.

Xinhua yesterday confirmed the brutal killing of Mergen, although local officials reached yesterday played down the demonstrations.

Xinhua quoted Shen Wenyin, deputy chief of the Xilingol League government as telling a press conference on Tuesday night that Mergen had been dragged by a coal truck as he attempted to block it. Shen said two Han Chinese drivers, Li Lindong and Lu Xiangdong, had been arrested by police after they fled in a taxi.

Shen confirmed that there had been another fatal coal mine dispute in the league’s Abag Banner – which online postings said had further provoked the protesters in the past two days. Shen said residents in a mining area in Abag had tried to stop operations at a nearby coal mine on May 14 because of noise, dust and water pollution. One of them, Yan Wenlong, 22, was killed when Sun Shuning, a worker, drove a forklift truck into Yan’s car. Sun was arrested for intentional homicide, Xinhua reported.

Wu Zhu , the head of the township government overseeing the village where Mergen lived, confirmed that “some locals” had taken to the streets over Mergen’s death. But he said: “Maybe it is not that appropriate to put it as `a protest’: they simply asked for compensation.”

Wu said police had been sent to restore order and that the area was calm yesterday.

Rising political star Hu Chunhua , widely believed to be a close ally of President Hu Jintao , is party boss of Inner Mongolia.

Coal Mining Accidents, Corruption, and Complacency

If you’re not aware of the massive flaws inherent in China’s coal mining industry, it’s probably because coal mining accidents are so ubiquitous here that many people (including the media) just tune them out. I had been intending to write something about this for some time when I stumbled across this post by Zhao Shilong addressing the issue with more statistical depth and background information than I ever could have brought to bear.

Translation

“There’s been a coal mining accident in XX, several dozen people are dead. Do you want to send someone to investigate it?”

“Only a several dozen dead? It’s not big enough news, don’t bother.”

The above sentence is something I heard someone who holds a high position in the actually say once.

But we can’t just look at that sentence and condemn the cold-heartedness of the news media. There really are too many mining disasters, so many that if the number of people killed doesn’t reach a hundred, the story doesn’t interest anyone anymore. It’s been over a hundred years since the United States had a coal mining disaster in which more than a hundred people died, but for us, at most we go a year between accidents where at least one hundred die, and sometimes there are several such accidents in a single year.

A famous weekly publication in Beijing once had a debate about whether to continue reporting on coal mining disasters at all, because from their perspective, aside from the time, place, casualty numbers, and a few other details, the causes and the general story of each accident could just be copied and pasted from one story to the next.

Last week, a coal mining accident occurred in the United States, in West Virginia, and 29 people died. The US President Obama made an announcement to the country, reading a list of the names of each person who died and conveying the entire nation’s grief. This accident was their first in several decades; the last coal mining accident in West Virginia, which was in 1984, left 13 people dead.

Obama said ((I am translating his words from the Chinese, as I was unable to quickly track down a transcript of his speech at the miners’ memorial service.)), “these miners represented the best of America. Our nation cannot tolerate people losing their lives just for doing their jobs. We cannot bring back the 29 lives that were lost, so our duty here is to make sure that this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen again.”

Obama said, “I cannot accept that the lives of coal miners is just one of the prices of the mining industry.”

These words shows why America is why America is great and powerful, and why people want to go there.

America is second only to China in the world in coal mining. Because of this respect for life, in recent years, the mortality rate for every billion tons of coal produced in the US is consistently under 0.03%. Conversely, China is a “double champion”, boasting the highest overall number of coal mining deaths in the world and the highest coal mining death rate proportionally. Of the major coal mining accidents in the world (accidents where more than ten people die), 90% occur in China.

Since 2000, China has lost at least a thousand coal miners every year. In between 2002 and 2004, the number of deaths per year climbed above 6000, 200 times the number in the US for the same time period. In 2009, China lost 2630 coal miners, 77 times more than the US. In the long term, China’s output only amounts for 35% of the world’s coal, but China has 80% of the world’s coal mining deaths. Every year four times the number of coal miners die in China as die in the entire rest of the word combined. It’s clear there is a huge problem in management, stemming largely from the collaboration of government and commercial interests [that leads to] corruption and incompetence.

Pushed into a corner, the government came out with the “tied-together” system ((a State Council regulation passed on July 7th of this year.)), which requires officials and management level employers to go down into the mines with workers on a regular basis. But in the past month an accident occurred and the people have discovered that the “tied-together” system isn’t strong enough to hold down these slippery officials, who, without exception, are still completely safe.

Comments

Zhao is right, in that it’s difficult to blame the media for not constantly reporting stories that, in essence, are the same thing. And I admit that when I see a headline about coal mining, my eyes often drift away before I even get to the lede — it is a story that we all have read before.

Of course, boredom doesn’t excuse complacency in the face of what might be described as institutionalized disaster. The accident statistics Zhao lays out in his article are evidence enough that the lives of these miners are considered part of the cost of industry, and it seems clear that no one — not the government, not the media, and not us, either — cares all that much about it.

Of course, the State Council did just pass the “tied-together” regulation in early July, but as Zhao says, it hasn’t really had any effect. No officials or high-level management have died in a coal mining accident. Why not? The answer is probably pretty simple: they’re not actually following the regulation and going into the mines at all. Our ChinaGeeks Chinese editor explained it quite nicely with a Chinese idiom: 天高皇帝远. “Heaven is high up, and the emperor is far away.” In other words, the State Council can’t physically be there to force anyone into the mines. And without being forced, how many corrupt officials and wealthy businessmen do you think are going to voluntarily put themselves deep underground in a place that’s dirty, dangerous, and full of poor people?

Stan Abrams wrote a piece on china/divide some time ago called “Why Doesn’t China Respect Life” in which he concluded that these disasters ((He was talking about the melamine scandal, etc., but the logic also applies to coal mining.)) are the products of capitalism excess. He’s almost certainly right. The Yanzhou Coal Mining Co., for example, is one of the top 50 Chinese companies listed in US stock exchanges in terms of highest profit margins. There is money to be made in the coal business. Cutting corners is dangerous, but it saves money, which increases profit. And what’s the worst that can happen. When a disaster happens, as long as you only lose a few dozen miners, it’s “no harm no foul” as far as most people in China are concerned.

The government is never going to be able to force corrupt officials and businessmen into the mines, but it does have tight enough control of business that strict regulations might be able to reset the scales such that cutting corners when it comes to mining safety was no longer profitable. And going at these mining companies via business regulations allows the government to circumvent the legal system which, let’s face it, often isn’t up to the challenge of taking on corrupt local officials and businessmen.

My feeling — and keep in mind that I know almost nothing about business, so this is really just idle thought — is that these regulations should be completely ruthless, and coupled with a small but expert team of government scientists dispatched to investigate major coal mining accidents. If this team finds the accident to have been the result of negligence or incompetence on the part of management, the company should be fined. The fine should be something absolutely crippling regardless of the company’s size or strength. Perhaps for each miner killed, the company should have to pay the equivalent of 1.5% of their yearly total income (not profit). This money can go towards compensation for the families of the miners who were killed, and to pay the scientists on the government inspection teams huge salaries so that they’re difficult for local officials and businessmen to bribe. It’s not perfect, but without a real court system or a way of actually enforcing the new State Council regulations, I doubt there is a perfect way to approach this crisis.

If nothing else, it would certainly shake up the mining industry a bit, as an accident with 30 miners lost would cost a company 45% of their yearly income. Many of these companies have been making large profits for years, and could probably continue to operate through a few disasters; one hopes that by the time their mountains of profits began to run dry, they might have begun to implement some of the safety standards that make American coal mines so (comparatively) safe.

But, like I said, I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination on coal mining or government business regulation. So how can China actually fix this coal mining problem? I leave that to you, and I hope people will pick up the question in the comments section below.

Of course, what the government does is well beyond out control. As people, we can only fight our complacency when it comes to these disasters, and try to see each one for what it really is, not just another headline but a tragedy leaves families shattered and young lives extinguished. And, more often than not, a tragedy that could have been prevented if the companies involved cared a little more about life and a little less about profit.