China Labour Bulletin established its bi-lingual Work Accident Map in December 2014 to track and categorise workplace accidents reported in the Chinese media.
The purpose of the project was not to record every single work accident (there are simply too many) but to provide a qualitative and descriptive dimension to the anonymous statistics and generalised reports issued by the Chinese government. The primary aim of the government’s statistics is to show the overall decline in the number of workplace accidents and deaths in China, and in particular the decline in the number of major accidents. This official narrative gives the impression that work safety in China is improving. However, it glosses over many of the problems that still exist in the workplace as well as new work hazards that are emerging as the economy shifts away from mining, heavy industry and manufacturing towards services, transport and logistics.
The Accident Map is made up of more than 2,000 individual entries that list the date and location of the accident, the number of deaths and injuries, the type of accident (explosion, structural/mechanical failure, etc.) and the industrial sector it occurred in. It also includes the original media reports that provide valuable detail on how the accident occurred and the response of the authorities. The vast majority of these reports are in Chinese but some major accidents do include English-language reports.
The baseline for inclusion on the map is at least one worker death/injury or an incident impacting on three or more workers but not necessarily leading to injury or death such as being trapped in a coal mine or being forced to evacuate from a fire. We will also include some incidents that official records exclude, such as the fires at migrant worker housing complexes in Beijing in the winter of 2017 and the deaths of five young kindergarten teachers in November 2018, which highlighted the hazardous living conditions low-paid workers are forced to endure.
Reliance on official media and some extent social media reports for information naturally results in a sample bias. Coal mine accidents and incidents involving construction and sanitation workers, for example, are widely reported, while smaller incidents in factories and industrial facilities that occur within a contained environment are probably underreported.
The map also has a bias towards larger incidents that get more publicity. Even so, 96.8 percent of the more than 2,000 accidents recorded by the end of 2018 (where the death total could be confirmed) involved fewer than ten deaths, 2.8 percent of accidents had ten to 29 deaths, and only 0.4 percent (a total of eight) had more than 30 deaths.
The Work Accident Map only records about one percent of the total work-related accidents reported by the Chinese government. Nevertheless, it can still provide some insights into the most common types of accidents in China and the most dangerous industries. The construction sector, for example, is by far the most prevalent source of accidents on the map; it is also recognised by the Ministry of Emergency Management as the industry with consistently the highest number of accidents in China.
To undertake an analysis of the data recorded on the map, simply select the time frame you are interested in and the categories you wish to compare; for example, the relative numbers of accidents in the manufacturing and storage/logistics sectors from January 2016 to December 2017, or the number of accidents involving motor vehicles in 2018. All this data can be exported to an Excel file by clicking on the export data icon.
For an overview of work safety in China and a more detailed analysis of the map data, please see our backgrounder on work safety, which examines the legal and administrative framework in China, the most common types of work-related accidents, occupational disease, over-work and dangerous housing conditions, as well as offering a series of recommendations on how work safety can be improved.