Despite a decline in job-related deaths, many labourers face grave dangers Worker safety on the mainland remains grim despite a decline in job-related deaths in the first quarter, according to an official in charge of occupational safety. Zhao Tiechui, deputy director of the State Administration of Work Safety, said rural migrant workers were particularly vulnerable as they made up most of the workforce in high-risk industries such as mining and construction. In the first four months of this year, 80 per cent of coal miners killed and 90 per cent of construction workers killed or injured were rural migrants. The mainland recorded a reduction of 13 per cent in work-related accidents during the first four months of this year compared with the corresponding period last year. 'We are trying to reduce the number of deaths, but dare not say that we could eliminate deaths from such accidents,' he told a conference on work safety for migrant workers co-hosted by the administration, Beijing-based NGO Facilitators and Hong Kong Oxfam. Mr Zhao conceded that the work environment of many employees was still fraught with risk, which was borne out by the number of people injured or killed on the job. The mainland also had more incidences of workers getting sick from their job than anywhere else, he said, without giving details. Mr Zhao said the mainland recorded about 50,000 cases of workplace poisoning every year. It sees 10,000 cases of pneumoconiosis - black lung disease - annually, a debilitating condition which affects miners who inhale coal dust. It is the most common vocational disease in the nation. Mr Zhao blamed employers for neglecting work safety and not signing proper contracts with their workers. Workers are also prone to accidents because of long working hours, he said. 'Only 30 per cent workers work eight hours a day in the Pearl River Delta. Some 46 per cent work 14 hours a day.' He also attributed the mainland's appalling accident rate to workers being ignorant of how to do their jobs safely. 'In one of my inspections, a coal miner told me when they recruit miners, people refuse to work if they are not allowed to smoke in the pit,' he said. 'The awareness is not low - there is no awareness at all.' However, many other participants in the conference said local governments are to blame for sacrificing the lives of workers in order to achieve high economic growth. They said officials routinely turned a blind eye to enterprises which do not comply with safety laws. Mr Zhao conceded that law enforcement was a challenge. 'The problem is not with the law, but with the law enforcement,' he said, adding that the intertwined relationship between local governments and enterprises are so complicated that the problem was as deep as a coal pit. Su Zhi , deputy director of the law enforcement and supervision department under the Ministry of Health, warned that the number of workplace illnesses was actually far higher than what was being reported. 'In the past few years, people ignored work safety amid fast economic growth,' he said. 'But vocational disease cases will increase in the coming years.' 'The troubles planted in the past will be exposed in the coming few years.'