chapter  7
22 Pages

Coal mine safety: the record

One way to understand the position of workers within a political economy is to examine changes in their working conditions and particularly in work safety. Theo Nichols’ influential work argued that varying levels of industrial health and safety within a society reflect the balance between labour and capital. This chapter and the next seek to replicate Nichols’ (1997: 10) ‘attempt . . . to locate industrial injuries within the structure and dynamics of capitalist society’ for China’s socialist, reform and capitalist economies. China’s mining industry is well over ten times as dangerous as manufacturing (Liu Tiemin 2009: 226): coal accounts for only 5.8 per cent of the industrial workforce, but for a quarter to a third of work-related fatalities (ZJPN 2006: 6-9; SAWS 2007a; ZASN 2007: 480). The regular occurrence of massive coal mining disasters, summarized in Table 7.1, has attracted widespread press coverage both within and outside China. The nation’s top leadership has called for action and highlighted the issue in successive government work reports (Wen 2005).