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The number of coal mine accidents and deaths in China fell again last year but officials admitted there had been an alarming increase in major accidents towards the end of the year.

In all, there were 170 fatal accidents leading to 316 deaths last year, a decrease of 24.1 percent and 5.1 percent respectively compared with 2018. The accident rate per one million tons of production, which dropped to below 0.1 for the first time in 2018, decreased again last year by 10.8 percent to stand at 0.083.

Speaking at a conference in Beijing early this month, the director of China’s State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, Huang Yuzhi, stressed that, despite improvements, much more work still needed to be done to prevent major accidents, especially those triggered by the build-up of gas.

There was a noticeable spike in the number of major accidents in the last two months of 2019, and the yearly total of major accidents actually increased by six, with the number of fatalities rising by 54, Huang said.

Even more alarmingly, the number of accidents and deaths caused by gas build-ups increased by 68.8 percent and 122.6 percent respectively. Gas build-ups accounted for 37.3 percent of all coal mine deaths in China last year.

It is clear that although coal mine safety has improved immeasurably over the last two decades, local government regulators still lack the power to effectively enforce safety standards. Moreover, once the demand for coal starts to increase, mine operators are often tempted to cut corners to boost production at the expense of miners’ safety.