At least 26 miners have now died and another 50 have been injured (18 seriously) in a fire at a state-owned coal mine in the north-eastern province of Liaoning in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Initial reports suggested that an earth tremor at 1.31.am triggered the combustion of coal dust in one of the mines operated by Hengda Coal, a subsidiary of Fuxin Coal Industries, a major coal producer in the region.
There were 89 workers in the mine at the time the fire broke out and Xinhua reported that all of the injured had been transferred to hospital for treatment. Hengda Coal has now suspended all operations while safety checks are carried out.
Fuxin Coal Industries was the operator of the Sunjiawan coal mine, which a decade ago was the site of the worst coal mine disaster in modern Chinese history. A gas explosion at the Sunjiawan mine on 14 February 2005 killed 214 miners and injured 30 others. State media reported that a total of 277 miners had died in six separate incidents at Fuxin operated mines in the last nine years.
However, Fuxin was far from being the only culprit. There were several major other coal mine disasters in China during the early and mid-2000s, a time when the annual death toll in the industry reached up to 7,000. See CLB’s research report Bone and Blood: The Price of Coal in China for more details.
Accident and death rates have steadily declined since the mid-2000s. Last year, the State Administration for Work Safety reported a total of 589 accidents and 1,049 deaths, both figures down 24 percent compared with 2012. However, much of the recent reduction in fatalities is the result of a slowdown in the demand for coal rather than any fundamental improvements in safety.