BEIJING - China's state media says accidents in the country's notoriously dangerous coal mines killed nearly 3,800 people last year.

The toll of 3,786 deaths was actually a 20 per cent improvement over 2006, but still leaves China's mines the world's deadliest.

Coal is the lifeblood of China's booming, energy-hungry economy.

The mining industry's safety record, which has never been good, has often suffered as mine owners push to dig up more coal to take advantage of higher prices.

The official Xinhua news agency says Chinese mines produced some 2.2 billion tonnes of coal last year, almost eight per cent more than in 2006.

The government safety push, begun two years ago, has reduced the death toll, yet the results mask great disparities between various coal mines.

Li Yizhong, director of the State Administration of Workplace Safety, said Saturday at a national meeting that large state-owned mines have safety records on par with mines in India and Poland, while those of small mines are 10 times worse.

"We must sufficiently recognize the specific, complex safety problems in our country's coal mines," Xinhua quoted Li as saying. "We must not be blindly optimistic and remain sober-minded."

Despite intense pressure on mine owners and the shutdown of smaller mines, China suffered one of its worst accidents in nearly 60 years of communist rule last year - an August flood that drowned 172 miners in a Shandong coal mine.