Productivity tops safety laws
Tens of thousands of Chinese workers are killed in workplace accidents each year because the communist nation relies on local authorities to enforce national safety guidelines, which companies and local governments routinely ignore for the sake of production.
"They've been very casual toward life," said Richard Cooper, an international economics professor at Harvard University, noting that Chinese workers can always be replaced. "To [the businesses], life is cheap."
For instance, 5,000 of China's 5 million coal miners are killed on the job each year, a death rate of one in 1,000 on average. By comparison, an average of nine of the 83,000 miners in the U.S. die each year, a death rate of one in 10,000.
Chinese construction sites and factories also have high numbers of fatal accidents, such as the explosion in Nanjing last week that killed at least 13 workers.
As China prepares to overtake the United States as the world's top manufacturer, the safety conditions of its 600 million-strong work force could give a short-term competitive edge over the U.S. and other developed economies.
"It's a labor cost borne by the workers," said Steven Lewis, a research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
Mr. Lewis noted, though, that the competitive advantage is slight, given China's low wages.