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Safety in the Mining Industry

The mining industry

The mining industry is one of the biggest employers across the world. Millions of people work in the industry as miners, geologists, process engineers, health care workers, and Geotechnical engineers among other roles (Humphreys, 2015). Studies have established that mining is one of the main economic pillars in some of the world’s leading economies such as the United States of America, Canada, Australia, and South Africa among others.

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Over the last several decades, the global mining industry has experienced enormous growth characterized by the creation of numerous job opportunities and growth of urban centers in the areas where the mines are located (Humphreys, 2015). However, the high rate of growth in the industry has not been very smooth because a number of issues have been raised regarding the occupational health and safety of the miners.

The main reason as to why this is a major concern in the mining industry is the fact that any form of injury to a miner often affects their health, productivity, and the financial future of their families. Studies have established that the mining industry has one of the highest rates in terms of the working days lost by employees in a year due to injury related causes (Humphreys, 2015). In the recent past, various stakeholders in the industry have made efforts geared towards promoting the occupational health and safety of all people that work within the sector.

Accidents in the mining industry

Accidents are a common feature of all mines across the world. The process of extracting coal and hard rocks is very hard and poses a number of risks to the people involved. Research has established that thousands of deaths are reported every year across the world because of mining related injuries. Although the number of mining accidents in the United States has significantly reduced since the turn of the century, statistics from other developed economies such as China suggest that there is still a lot of work to be done in order to increase the safety of miners (Karmis, 2001).

Accidents in the mining industry are attributed to a number of causes that include leakage of poisonous gases, flooding, mechanical errors, poor visibility, and collapse of the mines. During the 21st Century, several mining accidents have been reported across the world in countries such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Central African Republic, Chile, Ecuador, France, and Japan among others. In 1942, more than 1,500 people died in a coal mine accident in China. The main reason for the accident was harsh working conditions, lack of proper expertise, and a series of poor decisions following the fire outbreak (Karmis, 2001).

Reports indicate that a fire broke out in the mine, and the Japanese group managing the operations sealed all the ventilations as a way of containing the fire. Unfortunately, this decision was ill fated because a number of miners had not been evacuated and ended up dying due to suffocation. At the time, the concern for the occupational health and safety of the miners was not a priority issue for the operators because they had not conducted a risk assessment (Karmis, 2001).

In order to ensure the safety of miners, a risk assessment is very important because it provides the basis for creating a mitigation strategy in case any tragedy occurs during the mining process. Currently, most countries have mining legislation that provides guidelines for ensuring the occupational health and safety of miners. In addition, the laws also state the responsibilities of mining operators in ensuring that their operations do not compromise the health and safety of communities living around their mines (Clinton, 2000).

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Safety of miners in the United States compared to other countries

The mining industry in the United States has been in existence for several decades. During its formative years, the sector experienced a number of challenges that ranged from lack of adequate expertise to a high number of accidents to miners. Some of the factors that contributed to the poor safety measures for the miners included lack of necessary legislation, lack of adequate oversight by the government, lack of a safety culture, and few mining experts (Darling, 2011).

However, numerous efforts by the government over the last couple of decades have changed the situation through the creation of various laws geared towards ensuring the occupational health and safety of the miners. Reports indicate that since the early 1990s, the number of deaths caused by mining related injuries in the United States has not exceeded one hundred people in a year (Darling, 2011).

The numbers have dropped further since the turn of the century, as a 2012 report by the United States Labor Department indicates that only 35 deaths were reported in the three years that preceded its publication. The huge improvements in the safety of miners are attributed to increased regulation of mining activities by the government, training of miners on their safety, technological advancements, and adoption of better mining methods (Darling, 2011).

The United States mines are safer compared to those in other countries such as China and Turkey. Currently, Turkey is ranked as one of the most unsafe countries for mining activities in the world. Unlike the United States where the government has committed its self towards promoting the safety standards in the industry, Turkish authorities have lagged behind in terms of regulating the industry and creating legislation to promote the occupational health and safety of miners (Darling, 2011).

Currently, the country averages one hundred deaths every year due to mining related injuries. A report released by the government in 2012 indicated that more than 1100 people had died in the country from mining activities since the turn of the century. China is also another country that scores poorly compared to the United States in terms of the occupational health and safety of miners. Reports by the Chinese government indicate that in 2011, the country lost 1973 people to mining activities and a further 1300 in the following year. This shows that the United States has some of the safest mines in the world (Darling, 2011).

The ethics involved in the safety of miners

Mining is one of the human activities that divide opinion across the world in terms of its moral obligations and implications. The ethical dilemma that surrounds mining activities tags along creating a balance between its advantages and disadvantages. It is important to promote mining because it contributes to economic development through the creation of jobs and providing raw materials for various industries (Jennings, 2014).

Research has established that the mining industry across the globe supports very many families on top of being a major source of income to some of the leading economies in the world. On the flip side, mining has been accused of being a major contributor to most of the environmental and health challenges being experienced across the world.

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Due to unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, a number of environmental challenges such as flooding, degradation of the ecosystem, and contamination of water bodies are felt in communities that live around mines across the world (Jennings, 2014). The biggest ethical dilemma with regard to mining is whether to prioritize the economic empowerment of people and development activities at the expense of their health or vice versa. Mining is a way of life in various parts of the world that needs to be promoted and supported through the appropriate government regulatory measures (Jennings, 2014).

The history of government involvement with safety in the mining industry

The government has an ethical responsibility of creating economic opportunities for its people, and at the same time creating the necessary legislation in order to ensure their occupational health and safety across all workplaces (Graebner, 2015).

In the United States, the federal government has been involved in promoting safety in the mining industry through the creation of various agencies and laws. So far, the government has created the bureau of mines, the Federal Coal Mine Safety Act of 1952, the Federal Metal and Nonmetallic Mine Safety Act of 1966, the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, and the Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration (MESA) among others (Graebner, 2015).

Safety in the workplace is very paramount, thus the need for all the relevant stakeholders to do their part. In the case of the mining industry, both the employer and the employee have the legal obligation to promote occupational health and safety. The employer holds the responsibility of proving the employees with the best working conditions (Graebner, 2015). In addition, they should take the initiative on capacity building in order to keep their workforce in touch with any emerging risks and their mitigation measures.

The employees have the responsibility of actively participating in training programs organized to educate them on their safety in the workplace (Graebner, 2015). They also have the responsibility of promoting a safety culture.

References

Clinton, W.J. (2000). Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton, 1999. Los Angels, CA: Best Books.

Darling, P. (2011). SME Engineering Handbook, Third Edition. New York, NY: SME.

Graebner, W. (2015). Coal-Mining Safety in the Progressive Period: The Political Economy of Reform. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.

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Humphreys, D. (2015). The Remaking of the Mining Industry. New York, NY: Springer.

Jennings, M.M. (2014). Business Ethics: Case Studies and Selected Readings. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Karmis, M. (2001). Mine Health and Safety Management. New York, NY: SME.

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