Watchdog issues guidelines, penalties for work accidents

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 June, 2009, 12:00am

The State Administration of Work Safety will fine companies 30,000 yuan (HK$34,000) if they attempt to hide serious accidents, according to a guideline released yesterday that for the first time specifically targets cover-ups.

The administration said any company that failed to report 'fairly serious incidents' on time would be fined, the China News Service said.

'Fairly serious incidents' meet the following criteria: those involving 10 people, with three of them trapped or missing; those in which more than 500 people are evacuated; any accident that generates environmental pollution; or those threatening public facilities such as airports or sensitive sites such as power stations. These types of accidents are a frequent occurrence on the mainland. Almost every week there are reports of a factory explosion or mine collapse. These accidents often involve unskilled workers in underdeveloped counties.

In 2008 there were 91,172 work-place deaths, a decrease of 10.2 per cent year on year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Companies or local governments often attempt to cover up accidents or minimise casualties while local work safety bureaus reach under-the-table settlements with victims to avoid attracting attention.

In May, a bridge in downtown Zhuzhou in Hunan collapsed during demolition, burying vehicles beneath it. The government reported nine people were killed, but two funeral homes told media that they had received 11 bodies from the accident.

News media suggested that if the government had played down the incident - for example by keeping the death toll below 10 - it could have avoided an investigation that might have uncovered corruption.

Last year, seven officials in Xingyang , Henan were fired after covering up a mining accident that killed 16 people. The mining company had sealed the entrance to the mine to prevent investigators entering.

The new guidelines require reports on all accidents and casualties within an hour.