If you watched the news recently, you would have probably noticed a huge event happening in Chile. In case you haven’t heard, 33 miners went to work in the San Jose Mine (used for the mining of raw copper) for what was supposed to be a ten hour shift. The roof of the mine ended up collapsing on them. Fortunately, after spending 69 days underground, all of the miners have been rescued from their earthen prison safe and sound. Now that this saga has finished its final chapter, perhaps the greatest impact experts in the Mining, Minerals, and Metals industry hope it has was best summed up by Alonso Contreras (a cousin of one of the trapped miners): “Hopefully no one ever again has to do anything like this.”
While the Chilean government needs to be applauded for its impressive and effective rescue mission, someone must be held accountable for the safety lapse that may have led to the collapse in the mine. According to Mark Radomsky, the director of the Miner Training Program at Pennsylvania State University, if the escape routes for the Chilean miners were properly maintained, those miners could have been back on the surface in August, instead of October. Radomsky states that mine safety starts with commitment by all people who are involved with the mining operation. Chile and Mark Radomsky are not the only ones who are using the attention focused on the San Jose Mine collapse to further mining safety: earlier today, the National Union of Mineworkers in South Africa called for more stringent legislation on the mining industry. South Africa is the world’s largest producer of platinum and ferrochrome and has one of the highest mortality rates in mining in the industrialized world (with 165 workers dying last year).
In the United States, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has recently released the results of their 5-month long inspection. MSHA said that they had uncovered 2,660 violations in 108 mines in the United States. The trigger for these inspections was the Upper Big Branch mine explosion last April in West Virginia. Despite having been the epicenter of the investigation, Massey Energy (the owner of the Upper Big Branch mine) had another one of their mines closed by the MSHA for numerous violations. Why is it so hard to implement safety into the everyday workplace in the mining industry?
Radomsky tackles this in his article. He states that people who are associated with the mining industry defend it because of the economic value that mining creates. Mining produces scarce resources: the building blocks of any economy. In fact, it used to be a very common thing for miners to die in their labor and it would just be shrugged off by society as a necessity of life. The original article this post was linked to talks about this as well. It gives the statistics that in 1907 there were 3,242 mining deaths in the United States compared to 18 in 2009. Even in China, the culture is changing: mining deaths were at 2,631 in 2009, a great decrease from about 7,000 in 2002.
Simply put, the San Jose Mine collapse shows not necessarily how much mines need to improve safety, but rather how far society’s expectations towards workplace safety have come. Mining safety has made great strides in recent years; it just hasn’t been enough to match the change in expectations.