A work safety spokesman has criticised underfunding and lax accident prevention measures in the coal mining industry, while paying tribute to the manager of a mine who was killed in an explosion with 114 others.
After arriving with a team of investigators in the northeast city of Jixi, Heilongjiang province, Wang Yi, of the State Administration of Work Safety, said yesterday the exact cause of last Thursday's explosion at the Chengzihe Coal Mine had yet to be confirmed.
But initial investigations showed the disaster was the result of 'lax management of the ventilation system and violation of production procedures', he was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
Mr Wang said most mainland coal mines were underfunded and lacked proper safety measures. But he praised Zhao Wenlin, manager of the Jixi Mining Group, who was killed in the explosion, saying he was an 'honest, upright' person who had contributed to improving safety in the company's mines.
Mr Wang blamed the fact that most state-run coal mines were in financial trouble, adding many old mines were kept running by their managers in spite of obsolete safety equipment.
'A lot of the mining equipment is past the normal working age but has to keep on running,' he said. 'Many managers have little knowledge of safety measures and often pay little attention to the importance of safe production. All these factors contribute to accidents.'
Mr Wang said the central Government last year allocated about two billion yuan (HK$1.88 billion) to improve safety in coal mines. 'Had the coal mines effectively used the money, safety facilities in mines should have helped in preventing many accidents,' he said.
Of the 139 miners and company staff underground in the Chengzihe mine, 115 were killed and 24 rescued. According to Xinhua, 113 bodies had been recovered and the remaining two would be retrieved soon.
Thursday's explosion destroyed the state-run mine, which employed about 5,500 workers. The State Council ordered all coal mines in the Jixi area closed after the explosion and despatched a high-level investigation team to determine the cause of the accident.
Mr Wang yesterday said the investigators, who had only just begun their task following the rescue efforts, would need time.
It was reported earlier that the explosion was triggered by a concentration of gas within the mine.
The spokesman said investigators had yet to locate where gas had accumulated and the source of fire.
'Top priority of the investigation team is to find out where the explosion occurred,' Mr Wang was quoted as saying.
'Then the investigators will, based on their findings determine who should be held responsible, and compile their report to the State Council.
'Then [the State Council] will - in accordance with the country's laws and regulations of safe production - take actions against those who should be held responsible.'
The spokesman said the safety administration had already instructed inspectors across China to step up safety inspection work and to shut immediately all small coal mines that had failed to pass safety inspection tests conducted in March. 'Those who refused to close will be arrested, prosecuted and their property confiscated,' he said.