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China adds 32 deaths to dismal work safety statistics

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Dec 27, 2008
Thirty-two people died in two separate accidents in China Saturday, as a blast ripped through a rural area while a lift crashed on an urban building site, highlighting the nation's poor work safety record.

In the first of the incidents, an explosion erupted at 1:12 am (1712 GMT Friday) in the village of Donggancheng, in central China's Henan province, the Xinhua news agency reported.

"Fifteen people died and nine were injured," said an official with the Henan provincial work safety bureau, speaking to AFP by telephone and giving only his surname, Huang.

While rescue work had already been completed by noon Saturday, investigations were launched into why the tragedy took place.

Xinhua suggested the explosion was due to illegal storage of detonators, adding that police were targeting unidentified people suspected of having broken safety regulations.

Ten homes collapsed and 60 were damaged in the powerful explosion, Xinhua said.

"I heard a strong explosion at midnight, and the windows shattered," 50-year-old Wang Shunjiao told Xinhua.

Explosives are widely available in the Chinese countryside, where they are used for construction work, and deadly accidents happen frequently.

In the day's second fatal incident, 17 people died after a construction lift crashed to the ground on a building site.

The accident happened at about 7:30 am (2330 GMT Friday) in the city of Changsha, capital of Hunan province, also in central China, according to state media and officials.

"Sixteen people died when the lift crashed and two were seriously injured," an official at the Changsha work safety bureau surnamed Guan told AFP. "One of the two injured later died in hospital."

Xinhua reported the lift plummeted to the ground with 18 people shortly after five occupants had got off at the 17th floor.

The lift had only been designed to carry 12 people, Xinhua said, adding that police had detained the construction company's general manager, project chief and lift operator.

China has experienced a construction boom in recent years and new buildings continue to be erected at a brisk pace despite the global economic crisis.

The country's work safety record, however, is notorious, and thousands of people die every year in mines, factories and on construction sites, according to official sources.

Partial data from the State Administration of Work Safety showed 1,942 people died in large work-related accidents in the period from January 1 to December 14.

The administration said 99 people lost their lives on construction sites over the period, while it did not give a figure for deaths caused by explosions.

The figures are likely to amount to a drastic understatement of the real extent of safety problems at Chinese work places, as they do not include fatalities from smaller incidents.

Official data also give an overly rosy picture because many accidents are covered up by local officials worried that they may be punished for flawed supervision, observers have argued.

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