The new department will assume broad oversight responsibilities as part of a broader government restructuring.

By Paul A. Davies and R. Andrew Westgate

China’s Ministry of Emergency Management (MEM) has announced the establishment of a new department responsible for the safety, supervision, and management of hazardous chemicals. The MEM replaced the former State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), and took over responsibility for product safety relating to fireworks, pharmaceuticals, and the chemical industry.

The creation of the new department reflects increasing focus on chemical safety after the 2015 explosion at the Port of Tianjin, which killed 173 people and injured 797. More recently, an explosion at a chemical factory in the city of Yibin, Sichuan province in July killed 19 people. These incidents highlight that hazardous material storage remains a challenge in China.

Zhang Xingkai, the president of the China Academy of Safety Science and Technology noted that in the four years between 2011 and 2015, approximately US$89.4 billion was lost due to workplace accidents. The MEM was established in March 2018 in order to respond more effectively to crises like the Tianjin and Yibin explosions. With overall responsibility for safe chemical production and work environments, the MEM will provide a unified system focused on disaster prevention.

In addition to workplace safety, MEM also oversees investigation of industrial accidents, regulates production and registration of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and maintains the country’s hazardous chemicals catalogue.

Local departments will be responsible for assessing the risk of businesses that manufacture and store hazardous chemicals within their jurisdiction. Hazardous chemical manufacturing businesses will be graded on a point system according to the risks their chemicals pose. Local departments must complete their hazardous chemical grading and security risk assessments by September 2018 and report their jurisdictional grade to the MEM before the end of October 2018. Chemicals will be graded based on the scale below, in which a lower number of points indicates a more dangerous substance:

  • Red (lower than 60)
  • Orange (60≤ score<75)
  • Yellow (75≤ score<90)
  • Blue (90 or above)

Currently, SAWS Decree 591 — Regulations on Safe Management of Hazardous Chemicals — covers the regime. However, Decree 591 will reportedly be replaced by a new Law on the Safety of Hazardous Chemicals.

The establishment of MEM and the creation of the new hazardous chemicals department represent part of the wider government reforms and restructuring (including the creation of the new Ministry of Ecology and Environment) carried out earlier this year.

This blog was prepared with the assistance of Olivia Featherstone in the London office of Latham & Watkins.