PANZHIHUA, Sichuan, Sept. 1 (Xinhua) -- Death toll in Wednesday's colliery blast in southwest China's Sichuan Province has risen to 43, said Yang Dongliang, head of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), on Saturday.
Yang told an investigation team meeting that rescuers were reaching out to the location of the last three miners trapped in the Xiaojiawan Coal Mine in Panzhihua City, some 750 km southwest of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan.
The mine was struck by a gas blast at around 6 p.m. Wednesday, trapping about a third of the 154 miners who were working underground and injuring 54 others, including 17 in serious condition.
Yang said the priority of the rescue team is to search for the trapped miners. In the meantime, medical workers have been asked to treat those injured with all-out efforts.
He promised that the accident will be probed in a thorough, serious and scientific manner, and those who are found responsible will receive due punishment.
An initial investigation indicated that chaotic management and sheer ignorance of safety measures in the mine, owned by Zhengjin Industry and Trade Co., Ltd., were mainly to blame for the accident, Yang said.
Although the mine is well licensed, it had been organizing production beyond its capacity with more manpower underground than allowed, according to the investigation.
Meanwhile, loopholes in safety supervision were exposed in the mine as safety monitoring equipment were insufficient and production had not been halted albeit high density of gas, according to the investigation.
Yang admitted the situation of work safety in China remains rather severe though improvement has been made.
"We must give priority to the handling of gas in coal mines' production, so that such grave accidents as coal mine blasts will be prevented and eliminated," Yang said.
A SAWS spokesman said earlier that coal mining remains a high-risk industry in the country despite improvements over the past decade.
The spokesman, Huang Yi, said last Friday that 35 workers are currently killed in coal mines for every 100 million tonnes of coal output in the country, about 10 times the death rate in the United States. Government data showed that 1,973 miners were killed in coal mine accidents in 2011.
Small coal mines, which account for about 85 percent of the nation's 12,000 mines but only make up one third of the output, cause two thirds of all deaths in the sector due to poor safety provisions, according to Huang.
The spokesman said the nation aims to close another 625 small coal mines this year in an attempt to reduce the number of deadly accidents.
Yang stressed at Saturday's meeting that China would continue pressing ahead in shutting or merging small coal mines, especially in regions where such mines are concentrated, including Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou.
He said that lessons must be drawn from recent accidents to eliminate potential hazards that also exist in such sectors like non-coal mining, transportation, construction and manufacturing, and the storing of hazardous chemicals, fireworks and explosives.