Thursday, January 05, 2006
What's the Truth about Coal Miner's Deaths?
I was watching a programme on the TV this evening about internet censorship in China. According to the BBC the Chinese state has powerful internet tools for blocking Western media so that, for example, the BBC reporter was unable to access the BBC news website or Wikipedia from a computer inside China. I have always been rather suspicious about information coming from the media, and now with so much media saturation on the internet, I think we have reason to be even more cautious. We should always be wary of statistics which can be manipulated to give a particular perspective.
For example, I was reading Patry Francis' blog about the recent West Virginia mining accident in which 12 miners were killed in an explosion and I thought I'd try and find out how many miners typically get killed in West Virgina each year. The State of West Virginia reports that in recent years there have been around 10 fatal accidents per year but sometimes up to as many as 22 (as in 1991). This is far better than the 1960s when there were sometimes more than 100 fatalities annually.
While reading around the subject I found a shocking statistic in Voice of America, 5 Jan 2006 saying that 10,000 miners are thought to have been killed in China during the last two years. That works out at 5000 deaths per year or 14 deaths per day, around the level of deaths that West Virginia has annually.
The way the statistic is presented has the effect of making us think that Chinese miners are much more likely to be killed than West Virginia miners. But if you consider the problem in terms of population things look quite different. West Virginia has a population of 1815000 people while China has a population of 1400000000. That means that for every one West Virginian there are 770 Chinese people. If we extrapolate the 10 West Virginian miners killed annually to the Chinese population we get 7700 deaths per year. That is rather more than the 5000 deaths per year in China meaning that the safety of miners in China may actually be better than in West Virginia.
The statistics are more often presented in terms of deaths per ton of coal. The death rate for every 100 tons of coal produced in China is 100 times of that of the US and 30 times that of South Africa. That means that Chinese mining is incredibly inefficient with each American miner producing between 40 to 50 times as much coal as his chinese counterpart. This in turn means that West Virginia must be extremely reliant on coal-mining in order to account for the number of deaths it is producing annually...
Against this we have the likely inexactness of the statistics coming from China compared to the exact fatality-by-fatality reporting from West Virginia. A reason for uncertianty may be the cause of death. Accidental deaths may be relatively easy to count, but those related to lung diseases may slip through.
Nearly 10,000 miners are estimated to have died in China since the beginning of 2004.
This works out at nearly 14 deaths a day.
Voice of America, 5 Jan 2006.
Chinese academician He Zuoxiu suggests there are 100 miner deaths in China every day. His interviewer disagrees saying there are 'ten times as many'.
China Daily, 17 Dec 2005
According to offical Wang Xianzheng at a national meeting on coal mine safety there is one death every 7.4 days.
China Daily, 13 Nov 2004
The BBC reports 3000 Chinese miner deaths in the previous 11 months of 2005 and a total of 130,000 deaths in China due to industrial accidents annually.
BBC News, 28 Nov 2005
Yahoo news reports that more than 6,000 miners died in work safety accidents in 2004 according to government statistics. Labour rights groups say the figure could be as high as 20,000 or 55 deaths per day.
Yahoo News, 8 Dec 2005
So what's the final word? Probably the Chinese government is keeping the lid on how many people are actually dying. It seems unlikely to me that conditions are really more dangerous in West Virginia than in China given closer attention to safety and more modern industrial facilities.