Giving your Life for your Country

Written by Uln on September 29th, 2009

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I am finding it difficult to concentrate on my work with a band of spidermen in overalls hanging outside the window. It is tower rinsing day today, like every year, and again I find myself paralyzed by panic. I know, it is a common sight in a vertical metropolis like Shanghai. The problem is, through my day job I am familiar with the standards of Safety applied here, and I just can’t bear to watch this.

Safety is First. That is the first sign you see when you enter a Chinese factory or construction site, written in giant characters. It is a long term campaign pushed by the government to promote awareness. Everyone knows the phrase by heart, and all companies follow it… except when it hurts the bottom line. It is a problem of clashing philosophies, in my opinion. No matter how hard the government tries, in the end of the day it’s either “get rich first” or “safety first”, you cannot have both.

Mind you, I am not one of those safety fanatics who want to force everyone to live inside a cocoon. I ride my bike every day without a helmet, and I eat my noodles from the street stalls. I assume my risks because that is also life. But when it comes to work safety, it is completely different. Because those miners and cleaners don’t choose to hang out there, they do it so that the rest of us can sit in our comfortable offices and do our jobs. They should not give their lives for this. Representatives of the people, take note.

PS: I am no expert in this kind of work, and I have no idea whether the lifeline the cleaners are using is up to the standard for a 30+ storey building. I just took them by way of example. But in case some think I am exaggerating, here is a close-up of the rope as it passed next to my window. I have turned it to horizontal to fit better in the post.

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See also these pictures of better standards in my old Spanish blog.




5 Comments so far ↓

  1. Sep
    29
    5:38
    PM
    oiasunset

    ULN,

    This is not “Giving your Life for your Country”, but “giving your life for the money”. The title reflects your subconcious anti-CCP urges.

    Nevertheless, safety is a serious issue in Chinese private enterprises due to the sheer stupidity of Chinese “entrepreneurs” and also the workers themselves, which I had seen first hand.

    The SOEs are so much better. From my recent trip to Shanxi, the state-owned coal mines (big and small) are so risk-averse to the extent of being scientifically unreasonable. One municipal coal producer gave up a mine it spent 200 million RMB to develop simply because the gas content is a bit high and nobody wants to take any risk even if it is perfectly technologically competent to deal with the gas.

    [Reply to comment]

  2. Sep
    29
    6:32
    PM
    Uln

    The title is not very adapted to the content, I give you that. The government does try to address the issue, but there is a deeper problem of mentality and I contend that the whole CCP philosophy of “fast development above all” is conductive, when in excess, to the mentioned problems of safety.

    I know your opinion regarding private/public enterprises, we discussed it before. I do agree that in general private companies are more chaotic and follow less procedures. But I am afraid you might not be looking deep enough. When the large SOEs build their mega-factories, they are bringing in dozens of subcontractors for the different fields of construction and assembly, some private and some not. The big safety problems occur when the subcontractor of the subcontractor of the(…) falls from a scaffolding, and they find out he was just an untrained peasant hired the day before. The ultimate responsibility is actually of the general contractor, who is a SOE.

    My point is: it is all to easy for SOEs to do do the safest jobs (or the large, more developed mines) and leave the unsafe ones for others to subcontract. This doesn’t solve anything, and it just makes the public company workers a privileged class.

    About mines I don’t know so much, but I would like to know more. There are hundreds (thousands?)of mines in China, and a largepart are state owned. Are you sure these have significantly less accidents? Do you know any link with some statistics?

    This public-private discussion is very interesting, but not necessarily germane to the point in discussion. Public or not, I think there is a big problem of mentality in China regarding safety. And public or not, the government is ultimately responsible for the thousands killed in the mines and in the industry, as it is one of its core missions to guarantee the safety of its citizens.

    [Reply to comment]

  3. Sep
    29
    11:48
    PM
    oiasunset

    ULN,

    You are very right in that the problem is deeply rooted in mentality.

    You should have already noticed that Chinese people simply ignore almost all traffic safety precautions - it is like they think their human flesh is invincible against steels. That’s right: they simply refuse to believe something bad will be happening to them - to others maybe, but just not to themselves.

    I give you a cruel observation of mine about the Nanjing massacre (I know I’m going to be accused of being a hanjian for saying the below but nevertheless…). The Japanese killed many thousands in Nanjing, but the most curious thing was that when they killed the Chinese, none of the victoms attempted to fight nor even to escape. You try to kill a pig and even the pig will give you a good struggle - but not the Chinese. Why?

    The reason is not that the Chinese are particularly docile (we are all animal after all) nor they are coward (coward does everything to save his life). The reason is sheer ignorance and stupidity - the Chinese simply didn’t believe that this could happen to them. This is the same mentality that a Beijinger has when he crosses street completely ignoring traffic light and incoming cars - he is thinking to himself “dare the car hit me!”. Unfortunately cars do hit people and accidents do happen and the Japanese did kill.

    I fully agree that, though the government did a lot, it is not doing enough. There is no excuse. Judging by the government’s performance on many things, it should be held to a much higher standard than a non-performing government like India’s.

    [Reply to comment]

    Xiao Lu Reply:

    ” You try to kill a pig and even the pig will give you a good struggle - but not the Chinese. Why?”
    None of us were there to victim. You don’t have the right to give such comment!

    [Reply to comment]

    Uln Reply:

    Yeah, I thought the same when I read it. Didn’t say anything because I assume he didn’t mean it that way. But I agree it is 过分!

    [Reply to comment]

  4. Sep
    30
    12:23
    AM
    oiasunset

    Mine safety is such a messy issue that I can’t full explain the whole thing here. Suffice to say that the government and the private coal miners have different stories to tell and in the end it becomes a chicken and egg question.

    The miners accuse the government of changing its policies so fast that they are not motivated to make (longer-term) investment in safety. The government says that the miners so frequently had disasters that it had to tighten the rope. In my view, there is simply no excuse for the private miners to run their mines in their murderous way - if they think the government policies are not favourable, they can choose not to get into the business. Instead they come in and squeeze the mines, completely ignoring safety regulations and human life, and thinking that they can get away with it before the government catches them.

    So now the government is forced to order complete shutdown or consolidation of all small mines in Shanxi. The government pays the small miners decent money for them to get out - they are very busy these days negotiating with those SOEs in order to extort the most money. No doubt this is draconian and could a good opportunity for kickbacks, but all alternatives have been exusted in the past 5 years. Let me know if you have any brilliant idea (but no liberal lecture/empty talk please).

    [Reply to comment]

    Uln Reply:

    Well, I do have a brilliant idea: close down all the mines that are not compliant with the safety standards. How about that.

    A limit period of a year can be given for the companies to prepare their improvements, and then full fledged inspections of all the mines to be done systematically. The hundreds of new workers needed for the inspections can be recruited from the hundreds that will presumably lose their jobs with the mine closing, although of course a lot of managers properly trained in safety will be needed to guide them. During the year period this recruitment/training can be done.

    The real problems are not technical, but rather: 1- Can central government overcome the interest of local governments to achieve this? 2- Does the cental government have the money to pay for this? 3- How many in the central government care enough for those miners whose safety will report no direct benefit to them, rather the opposite in terms of stability?

    [Reply to comment]

    oiasunset Reply:

    Opps… tried many times with varied leniency periods - close, open, close, open, close, open… and during which time multiple Shanxi governors lost their jobs every time a big bang happened.

    ULN do you really have no first hand experience with regard to the (completely lack of) decency of Chinese private “entrepreneurs”? I found it hard to believe that.

    During my last visit to China, I run into a Chinese fund manager. I casually mentioned if he has visited a big private coal miner I thought should be at least half-decent. He told me he doesn’t even bother to look into any private companies because “they are all liars”.

    [Reply to comment]

  5. Sep
    30
    12:31
    AM
    oiasunset

    By the way, I visited many SOE mines, big and small. They are good.

    I took an Indian colleague to Shanxi and Inner Mongolia last month to see the SOE mines, including a mega one and a very small one. He is superbly impressed by both - he couldn’t believe coal mines can be so clean (there is no soot to be seen on the ground) and so well-organised.

    [Reply to comment]

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