DEATH quotas are not just restricted to the coal mining industry but are widely used throughout China, government officials have confirmed, writes Geoffrey Crothall. Just about every industry in China where fatal accidents are common uses quotas to determine an ''acceptable'' level of fatalities for a particular job. For example, the railway construction department has quotas for the number of fatalities permitted during the building of a tunnel or laying of a section of track. Quotas are based on previous experience of railway track construction and allow for one death for every few metres of track laid. ''They were usually fairly accurate,'' one former railway construction worker said. ''We all knew what the quota was and in most cases the death toll would be in line with that quota.'' Industry officials defended the uses of quotas, saying it was impossible to guarantee there would be no deaths during dangerous construction projects which traditionally used high levels of manual labour. ''The quotas are based on the level of technology and the safeguards available to us as well as the difficulty of a specific project,'' an official responsible for infrastructure construction said yesterday. ''They are used to ensure that the construction companies do not use reckless or unnecessarily dangerous practices to get the contract completed ahead of time.'' Quotas are also used by the Beijing municipal government in an attempt to limit city road traffic accidents. Each district's public security bureau and the municipal public security bureau have quotas for the number of traffic accident deaths permitted each year and if those quotas are exceeded the offending bureau will be censured. However, the quota system does not always ensure traffic police will take effective measures to curb accidents in the city. Police tend to be rather lax in their approach to traffic safety for most of the year until the death toll edges up to the quota. Government officials acknowledged the quota system was open to abuse but said it was still the most practical approach to industrial safety available. The abuses which do occur, such as the trading of death quotas by coal mines, may appear offensive but are basically just a practical response to the problem, one official said privately.