Deaths from work-related accidents have continued to decline on the mainland, but the authorities still uncovered 168 attempts to cover up accidents, the country's top safety chief said yesterday. Luo Lin , director and Communist Party chief of the State Administration of Work Safety, told a national conference on work safety that the administration had reported 3,051 cases in which officers enforcing safety laws had been obstructed from carrying out their duties. A total of 3,488 people were punished over the accidents, including 425 facing criminal charges. Eighty-seven of those punished were officials above county level, Mr Luo said. He said 91,172 people were killed last year - down 10.2 per cent from 2007 - in 413,752 work-related accidents. Work-related deaths on the mainland have been falling since 2003, but around 100,000 people are still killed every year. Mr Luo said the administration aimed to reduce the number of accidents that kill three to nine people - a category ranking third on the administration's scale of severity - by at least 6 per cent this year. Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang , speaking a day earlier in a national teleconference on production safety, said many big accidents still occurred, and cover-ups of production irregularities and accidents still took place. Although the mainland made covering up accidents a criminal offence in 2007, and adjusted disciplinary procedures within the government and Communist Party, cover-ups of work-related accidents remain a major issue. Last July, 35 miners working in the Lijiawa coalmine in Wei county, Hebei , died when poorly stored dynamite exploded. However, mine operators destroyed the evidence, transporting the bodies to Shanxi and another county in Hebei. The accident was not reported to the authorities for two months. In September, a landslide at the Xintao mines in Xiangfen , Shanxi, killed 276 people, but local officials tried to shirk responsibility by telling higher-level authorities that the accident had been caused by a heavy rainstorm - even though it had not been raining. They also said the accident caused only one death and two injuries. Earlier media reports quoted Song Hansong , a senior official from the Supreme People's Procuratorate, as saying the number of cover-ups of dereliction of duty in workplace accidents had increased last year.