Friday, May 6, 2011

The Deadliest Catch: China Coal Mining


The Chinese Coal Mining Industry is by far the most deadliest industry in the world for it's workforce.

In 2008 there were officially 3,215 deaths reported by Chinese government. This is  the "official" figure, human rights and industry analysts put this figure far higher, some suggesting upwards of  10,000 deaths, on average, annually.

Fatalities peaked in 2003 with 6,434 official deaths or, 4 per 1 million tons mined. This has reduced considerably to 2008 where the fatality rate was 1.18 per million. Whilst the  total and death rate has reduced considerably it has to be compared with the U.S. where since 2000 the death rate per million tons has been between .012 and .04 per million tons.

Why then is coal mining more dangerous than being a combat soldier?

The Chinese coal industry is the largest producer of coal in the world, far outstripping it's two largest competitors, the U.S. and Australia.

In 2009  the China's Coal industry produced officially 2.9 billion short tons of coal, three times that of the U.S., the world's next largest producer. It did so out of an estimated 15,000 mines employing, according to the International Energy Agency,  2,657,230 Chinese workers. Unlike Australia, for example, the most common mine operation is underground.

Even at this phenomenal production rate China can not meet domestic demand, considered to be around 3 billion tone per annum and thus forces it to dig deeply to fuel the second largest and the fastest growing economy in the world, one that  is abnormally dependent, for such a  large economy, on fossil energy fuel.

Industry Makeup

The industry consists of four types of mines namely:
  • National Strategic Mines (NSM's) Nationally run companies numbering some 268 and accounting for 51% of production.
  • Provincial National Mines (PNM's)  owned by provincial governments  numbering some 4,000 mines and producing 13% of production.
  • Township Mines (TM's) numbering 12,000 approximately and owned by local governments and private organisations.
  • Illegal operations statistics unknown.
Fatalities for NSM's in 2008 numbered 454 at a rate of .3 equivalent to that of the U.S. These mines are modern, well managed and resourced.

Fatalities for PNM's were 401 in the same year at a rate of 1.04 and at TM's the fatalities numbered 2360 at a rate of 2.15. These latter mines are at the very lower level being usually small operations, poorly equipped and lacking good management and governmental oversight.

 It is TM's  and illegal mining operations that commentators believe that accidents and fatality data has historically been considerably understated or not reported to Central authorities at all.

Since early last decade there has been much international scrutiny of the safety of Chinese Coal Mines. This has led to a crackdown by the Chinese central government on TM's and illegal mines and some 50,000 have been closed down in that period with greater scrutiny of those remaining. It is this crackdown that is mostly responsible for the fatality rate diminishing.

It is unlikely, in the medium term, that despite the Central Governments crackdowns, that the fatality rate will decrease at the rate it has over the last decade.

Corruption is rampant, especially at the lower levels of the industry, and demand exceeds supply. This provides for a deadly synergy that even the most well intentioned Government would be hard pressed to overcome.

The Chinese government has made considerable progress in mine workers safety in the last decade. It has, however, a very long way to go and one wonders that with the continued rapid industrial development, the style of mining operations required to extract the coal and the demand /supply equation that any further quantum leaps will be long tmes off.

Further Reading: China's Conundrum: Implication of Fatality Staistics of Chinese Coal Mines Thomas Rauch

No comments: