Chinese lawmakers are considering imposing fines of up to 5 million yuan (810,000 U.S. dollars) on enterprises involved in serious workplace accidents.
Managers in charge of such enterprises who are found to have failed in their duty to ensure safety will also be fined between 30 and 80 percent of their annual income, under a draft amendment to the Workplace Safety Law tabled for second reading in China's congress on Monday.
This is a massive increase compared with the current law, under which managers face fines between 20,000 yuan and 200,000 yuan.
Currently, fines for enterprises violating the law are no more than 100,000 yuan or below five times the income earned from illegal operation.
The bill will be considered at the bi-monthly session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), to be held from Monday to Sunday.
It is proposed that managers responsible for "serious" and "extremely serious" accidents will be banned from serving as principals in enterprises in the same industry.
The regulation on work safety issued by the State Council in 2007 defines "serious accidents" as those causing 10 to 30 deaths, 50 to 100 serious injuries, or direct economic losses of between 50 and 100 million yuan.
It identifies "extremely serious accidents" as those that kill more than 30 people, seriously injure 100, or result in over 100 million yuan in direct economic losses.
The Workplace Safety Law, which took effect in 2002, has helped reduce malpractice, but many problems still need to be addressed, said Yang Dongliang, director of the State Administration of Work Safety, at an NPC session during the first reading of the bill in February.
The administration investigated 44 serious workplace accidents last year and about 300 people were prosecuted for violating workplace safety laws.
Light punishment and lack of supervision are believed to be among the major reasons for the negligence behind frequent accidents.
At Monday's session, the draft amendment added articles that enhance the supervision power of work safety watchdogs and local governments, especially those at township level. Most work safety accidents occur in small enterprises located in rural towns instead of large cities.
"Governments of the township level should strengthen their leadership on work safety," the draft reads.
Lawmakers have solicited opinions from the public as well as experts and government departments to improve the draft bill, said Zhang Mingqi, vice director of the Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee.
"After discussion and revision, the draft amendment is relatively ripe," he added.
During the first reading in February, lawmakers added articles to ensure employers are aware of their responsibilities, improve supervision and tighten punishment for offenders.
The first draft revision also increased fines for a number of types of malpractice. For instance, for employers who fail to provide workplace safety training for employees and do not correct wrongdoing after being required to do so, the bill raises the fine from a maximum 20,000 yuan (3,225 U.S. dollars) to between 50,000 and 100,000 yuan.
The first draft also asked work safety regulators to set up a blacklist to deter big companies that may not care about large fines. Information on serious offenders could be published and shared with regulators of investment, land use and securities as well as banks.
Also, it allowed the regulator to force factories to suspend operation by cutting off their power supply, if their workplace is considered highly unsafe and likely to cause accidents
The second draft added a clause that requires timely removal of such measures after factories have cleared accident risks