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Despite New Safety Regulations, China Workplace Deaths Are High

By Joseph Kahn

The New York Times -- BEIJING

New work safety rules and beefed-up enforcement have failed to reduce the death toll in China’s mines and factories so far this year, and a government official acknowledged that the problem “has not been completely addressed.”

Accidents killed 11,449 workers through September, an increase of 9 percent over the corresponding period a year earlier, according to national data released Thursday.

The official tally shows the number of deaths dropping slightly in notorious coal mines, but rising in other types of mines and jumping by 19 percent at factories and construction sites.

The deaths reflect that workplace safety is a relatively low priority for China’s government, which puts heavy emphasis on raising production and forbids workers from forming independent unions.

Although China’s new leaders have promised to overhaul the way they manage the economy to better reflect the needs of workers, top leaders rarely speak about the numbers of casualties in a wide variety of Chinese industries.

They have continued to repress workers who voice concerns about poor labor conditions as potential threats to the Communist Party’s hold on power.

Since a new work safety law was enacted last year, the State Administration on Work Safety has begun regularly releasing statistics about accident rates. Authorities have also increased penalties for mine or factory owners who allow hazardous conditions to persist.

Overall, however, the agency’s power appears to be limited and the propaganda campaign has not noticeably improved the country’s safety record.

Huang Yi, the chief legal officer of the work safety administration, told a news conference Thursday that the State Council, China’s Cabinet, had ordered the agency to improve its procedures and had given it fresh powers of enforcement, but did not provide details.