Random Analytics: Mining – A Dangerous Business (China to 14 May 2013)

by Shane Granger

On Saturday 11 May 2013 around 2pm in the afternoon more than 100 Chinese miners toiled in the depths of the Taozigao coal mine in Sichuan province unaware that within minutes they would be subject to a gas explosion brought on by a build-up of gasses from poor ventilation in an illegal operation. 28 would subsequently die and another 18 would be wounded, at least eight critically. Barely 24-hours prior to this incident another gas blast would kill 12 and injure two in the neighbouring province of Guizhou.

Dual incidents of this magnitude were enough to get global press including a mirrored story via Australian Mining which reported the initial incident.

A previous Xinhua story had some interesting (and sobering statistics). They include:

  • Mine accidents killed 37 workers for every 100-million metric tonnes of coal produced in 2012, down from 56.4 for 2011 but well above the US which reported 1.9 in that same year;
  • 1,384 fatalities occurred in Chinese coal mines in 2012, down from 1,973 in 2011;
  • 93% of coal gas blasts were caused by poor ventilation.

China is acknowledged by many to be the most dangerous place on Earth to work in mining.

Now putting aside the fact that Xinhua is the official Chinese media outlet I thought I would do some digging into the safety record of Chinese mines and (time permitting) keep track over it over the course of 2013.

Here is my analysis.

1 - ChinaMiningDeathsbyProvince_130515

Map Details

Just looking at Xinhua data to 14 May there have been 28-major incidents which include 336-fatalities and 160-injuries. Due to a lack of follow-up reporting by Xinhua there are at least 42-people unconfirmed as either dead or rescued from various floods and collapses, although I hope to follow this up by interrogating provincial newspapers.

The single largest incident was that of a landslide in Tibet which buried 83-miners of the Jiama Copper mine under 2-million cubic metres of mud and rock on the 29th March. This single incident also confirmed Tibet as the province with the most confirmed fatalities to date.

The South West province of Guizhou had the most reported incidents with seven separate incidents and a combined fatality count of 70. The most serious incident from Guizhou was a colliery gas blast at the Machang mine which left 25-dead and a further 20-injured.

Both North East and South West Regions recorded 10-incidents each. The South West Region (which includes Tibet) had the worst data, recording 189-deaths against the North East which had 112-deaths.

The most recent incident reported via Xinhua was covering the gas blast at the illegal Taozigao coal mine on the 12th May 2013.

2 - ChinaMiningDeathsbyResource_130515

Fatalities by Resource

Coal continues to be the most dangerous resource to mine in China with 240-deaths, almost 3 out of every four reported fatalities occurring via that commodity. Additionally, with 25 out of 28 incidents attributed to coal it also made up 89.3% of all reported incidents to date.

Copper was the second most dangerous resource by numbers with 2 incidents (7.1%) and 86-deaths (25.6%). Although we are not yet half-way through the year I believe that percentile will come down over the course of 2013 given that 96.5% of that commodities fatalities came from a single incident, the Tibetan landslide, which even by Chinese standards was unprecedented.

With one carbon monoxide poisoning incident (3.6%) and 10-deaths (3%) gold was the only other commodity to have a significant reportable incident.

3 - ChinaMiningDeathsbyMonth_130515

Fatalities by Month

The final graph looks at reported mining deaths by month including provisional numbers for the current month.

Not including May the incident average for the first four months is 6.5 while the monthly average for deaths is at 74-deaths. Interestingly the incident variation is tight (between 5 and 8) while the fatality variation is more diverse (between 22 and 155).

Final Thoughts

Without discussing censorship, there is no doubt that the numbers I have discussed here only scratch the surface of Chinese mining fatalities.

A commonality of the 28 incidents reported by Xinhua was that they covered incidents with three or more persons. Thus, a huge amount of individual deaths and injuries that can happen on any mine in any part of the world including Australia go unreported by the national Chinese media.

Another factor would be illegal mining. At least two incidents and 40-deaths that were recorded occurred in illegal mines, potentially unknown to Chinese officials until a major rescue effort was required.

That aside, everything that I discover about China is big.

Unfortunately that also includes fatality counts in its mining industry.

Updates (15/05/2013)

  • Added Fatalities by Month chart.