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China mining toll 'falls' in 2008

Rescuers at a Chinese coal mine, August 2008
Most of China's 16,000 mines are illegal - and dangerous

China says the number of fatalities from coal mining accidents fell 15% in 2008 compared with the previous year.

China's state news agency Xinhua also reported that the number of accidents fell by 19% to 413,700 last year.

China's State Administration of Work Safety said the death rate in mining accidents was just over 1%. There was no figure for actual number of deaths.

It quoted officials as saying that tougher law enforcement and the closing down of illegal mines had helped.

However, government figures show that almost 80% of the 16,000 mines operating in China are illegal.

Xinhua quoted Zhao Tiechui, senior official in charge of coal mine supervision, urging harder work on safety and accident prevention in the coming year.

"Coal mines often experience the most serious accidents because so many of them are operating illegally. The industry also sees the most frequent covering-up of accidents," Mr Zhao said.

An earlier report on state media quoted an inaccurate figure of 91,172 deaths in coal mining accidents in 2008.

'Year of Work Safety'

The China Daily reported that the number of traffic accidents, firework accidents and other industrial accidents also fell significantly last year because of improved supervision.

Announcing a "Year of Work Safety", Luo Lin, head of the work and safety administration, said more measures would be launched to ensure accident rates continued to fall, the newspaper reported.

But despite the overall decline in accident and fatality numbers, Mr Luo was quoted as saying the number of serious accidents last year was up by more than 35% on 2007.

Almost 3,500 officials were investigated and 425 were arrested last year for negligence in relation to mining accidents, he said.

The scandal linked to the collapse of an iron ore reservoir at a mine in Shanxi province resulted in 34 officials being dismissed, he said.

"Illegal production and cover-ups are still too frequent in the industry, and some local governments and corporations remain ignorant of their responsibilities with regard to work safety," Mr Luo said.

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