FATALITY quotas are not unusual in the mining industry. Internationally, coal mining is recognised as a dangerous business and no one has yet worked out a way of guaranteeing miners' safety. Clearly, the lower the quotas can be set the better. But, realistically, the maximum tolerance for accidents will depend as much on the design and modernity of each pit as on management and worker attitudes. However, the 47 per cent growth in accidents in Chinese mines this year suggests a serious deterioration in standards and procedures. It would take an expert examination of conditions at each pit to show where quotas have been set too high or which mines are intrinsically unsafe and ought to be closed. It is not the setting of quotas as such that indicates a lax attitude on the part of the mainland coal industry. What is unacceptable and requires immediate and firm action by the authorities is the trading in quotas between pits, with no apparent intervention on the part of the Coal Ministry. If mines are operated in the expectation that any increase in deaths can be covered by buying a quota elsewhere, safety measures are bound to be neglected. Quotas are set to ensure mines are operated safely, not to excuse sloppiness. China's safety record is poor in a range of industries because rules are either non-existent or sloppily and incompetently enforced. Where regulations exist, factory managements, local and foreign, are under little pressure to observe them. It is the duty of the Coal Ministry to ensure that mining injury and fatality quotas are neither set too high nor traded in such a dangerous manner. Human lives are too precious to be sacrificed to the unrestrained pursuit of profit. The modern term ''socialism with Chinese characteristics'' should mean that capitalist-style enterprise can be tempered with a concern for workers' welfare.