Mainland officials have made repeated pledges to improve the safety of the nation's coal mines, with little effect: the death toll from accidents remains staggeringly high. As the latest disaster in Shanxi province shows, no matter how many promises are made or how much money is thrown at the problem, the underlying causes - poor standards, inept management and breaking of the rules - persist in the industry. This latest in a string of recent accidents exemplifies the difficulties state officials have in putting words into practice. Mine managers initially covered up the disaster. Then, when confronted by officials and the media, they gave differing accounts, downplaying the number of miners trapped. The mine was producing 10 times above its licensed output and the miners were working in a coal seam beyond approved limits. Operators have good reason to flout the rules: coal is the primary fuel powering the mainland's economic growth and, with the backing of local officials, the incentives are high to maximise profits by overproducing. Often, those same officials have stakes in the mine, making it unlikely they will follow Beijing's orders. Mining coal is dangerous, no matter where it is carried out, but is especially so on the mainland, which produces a third of the world's total and last year recorded almost 6,000 deaths. Seventeen miners died for each million tonnes of coal extracted from small mines and just under two deaths were recorded for every million tonnes at big state-owned mines. The US, the largest coal producer after China, had just 0.039 deaths per million tonnes. The central government has put in place an impressive array of measures to bring down the toll but these have had little impact. Orders to close unsafe mines have frequently been ignored. Last year, the compensation for victims' families was raised to 200,000 yuan and safety training programmes are well advanced. Earlier this month, State Administration of Work Safety director Li Yizhong pledged imminent closure of 7,000 of the nation's 23,000 small coal mines and said all mining operations that failed to meet safety standards would be closed within three years. Premier Wen Jiabao, in his work report to the National People's Congress in March, promised tougher laws that would target local officials and investment of 3 billion yuan this year to find technical solutions. Words must be coupled with action. Laws banning officials from investing in mines must be implemented and enforced, more rigorous inspections carried out, greater effort put into improving safety for all mines and compensation levels raised substantially. There is no quick solution to lifting safety in mainland mines to international standards. Enforcing rules and stopping corruption will, however, go a long way to cutting the senseless loss of life.