China's Work-Related Deaths Drop

State Administration of Work Safety reported that the number of deaths dropped to 91,172 for 2008, falling below 100,000 for the first time in more than a decade.

BEIJING (AP) -- China's work-related deaths fell below 100,000 last year for the first time in more than a decade, amid an increased government focus on accident prevention, state media reported Monday.

The State Administration of Work Safety reported that the number of deaths dropped to 91,172 for 2008, a 10.2 percent decline from the previous year, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

China's vast work force, an estimated 800 million people, has fueled decades of export-driven growth, turning their country into the factory for much of the world.

But safety standards continue to lag behind those in developed countries. Many factories and mines have little or no safety equipment, while worker training is also weak.

China's latest figures indicate that 11.4 workers die for every 100,000 on the job. In comparison, the United States said last year that there were 3.7 fatal injuries for every 100,000 workers in 2007, the most recent numbers available.

The government has been focusing on workplace safety in recent years, and last year was the first time since 1995 that the work-related death toll was under 100,000, Xinhua said.

In particular, China has sought to focus on safety in its coal mines, which are the deadliest in the world. In 2007, coal mine accidents claimed 3,770 lives in China.

In 2008, the number of coal mine fatalities were reduced by 15.1 percent to about 3,200, Zhao Tiechui, a senior official in charge of coal mine supervision, was quoted as saying.

That is a vast improvement from 2006, when about 4,500 people died in numerous mine fires, floods and other disasters.

Zhao said safety improved because of government efforts to close illegal mines and improve worker safety.

China shut down 1,054 small coal mines last year. Government figures show that almost 80 percent of the country's 16,000 mines are small, illegal operations.

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