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All businesses that work to extract minerals, ores, metals, and other substances from the earth's interior are considered to be part of the mining sector. Natural causes cause the occurrence of certain minerals, which are exceedingly precious because they are nonrenewable. Since the beginning of human history, the industry has been a major source of economic activity.
Coal, which is highly prized for its capacity to generate energy, is an illustration of a resource that is frequently mined. The ore has been employed since the 1880s as a vital component for the creation of power, as a fuel for the extraction of iron ore, and as a component of cement manufacturing (Hayes, 2004). Since then, numerous methods of coal mining have been developed to replace the traditional tunneling, digging and manual extraction of the coal on carts. Modern mining methods utilize draglines, conveyors, jacks, large trucks and shearers (Hayes, 2004).
Although coal can be obtained through open cast mining, most of the modern day reserves require underground mining techniques, which have been fraught with danger for centuries due to the confined spaces, the use of explosive, the lack of proper lighting, the presence of inflammable gas and possibility of collapse (Rice, 1928). These aspects make coal mining one of the most dangerous professions in the world.
Due to the fatalities involved in coal mining accidents, incidences are usually reported in major news outlets as soon as they occur. One of the most common causes of accidents in a coal mine is the explosive accidents, caused by gas, coal dust, or the explosive utilized in mining (Rice, 1928).
In fact, some of the worst disasters in the world have occurred due to explosions. The worst mining disaster in the world, the Benxihu Colliery Disaster in 1942, caused the death of 1549 miners after an explosion caused by both gas and coal dust (Mining-Technology.com, 2014). A similar accident in Courrieres colliery in France in 1906 caused a death toll of 1099 as a result of fire that started in one of the underground pits. An explosion in Mitsubishi Hojyo coal mine on Kyushu Island in Japan in December 2014 blew up an elevator cage and affected people within a 200-meter radius. The final death toll was 687. The collapse of the coal mines has also resulted in the deadliest mining disasters ever recorded. Coalbrook mine in South Africa suffered a collapse of the underground mine after the supporting pillars over a 3-kilometer distance disintegrated. 1000 miners were trapped at the time of the incident. Although most of them were able to escape, 435 miners and rescue workers died due to the collapse of the ground and poisoning from methane gas (Mining-Technology.com, 2014). Several other coal mining accidents have caused several deaths and injuries throughout the world.
Due to the frequency and fatalities of coal mining accidents across the globe, there are several measures that different countries have adopted to ensure that safety within the collieries is maintained. In the United States, thousands of miners were lost to coal mining accidents between 1880 and 1910. The accidents prompted the creation of the U.S Bureau of Mines by the Congress in 1910 (United Sates Department of Labor, n.d.). The task force was charged with the responsibility of investigating the accidents, advising those in the industry, conducting production and safety research, teaching courses in accident prevention and organizing for first aid and mine rescue. Federal and State laws were then put in place to regulate the industry, extend coverage to miners, ensure that safety procedures and technology were adhered to and provide miner training to reduce and eliminate the worst hazards. Laws such as the Health and Safety Act of 1969, Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1997 and Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 put across standards of safety among coal mines (United Sates Department of Labor, n.d.). Presently, the safety of miners has drastically improved due to the development of modern mining methods such as longwall mining, monitoring of hazardous gas, drainage of gas, use of electrical equipment and the presence of ventilation (World Coal Association, n.d.). However, modern coal mines operate in line with rigorous safety practices that ensure the health and safety of the miners. Measures such as worker education and training have drastically reduced the coal mine fatalities.
As compared with other coal mining nations, the U.S ranks favorably in safety mining statistics. The country ranked as the first in a table seeking to compare accident rates per million tons of coal. Australia ranked as the second while Canada came in third. In terms of fatalities that occur for each million ton of coal mined, Australia was the first at 0.03%, USA the second at 0.05% and Canada the third at 0.08% (Sari, Karpuz, & Selçuk, 2001). The United States also ranked well in the occurrence of accidents of people at work. For every one thousand workers, 82 were hurt in the line of duty in U.S coal mines. Australia had 125 while Canada had 145 (Sari, Karpuz, & Selçuk, 2001). The fatality rate among a thousand miners for the U.S was 0.35% which ranked third behind Poland at 0.22% and Australia at 0.25% (Sari, Karpuz, & Selçuk, 2001). As indicated by the statistics, the United States operates some of the safest mines in the world. The country continues to develop laws, regulations, practices and procedures that will further improve mine safety.
There are different ethics involved in the maintenance of the safety of coal miners. Due to the increase in prices of coal, some mining companies have been encouraging workers to take up more shifts so as to increase the amount of output per day. Given that mining is a physically taxing job, agencies such as the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration have been considering the impact of fatigue on the safety of the workers (Cladwell, 2006). There is also the environmental question due to the harm that the industry imposes to the environment. The sites cause damage to topography, surrounding flora and fauna, the genetics of the soil, natural habitats and release a greenhouse gas that destroys the ozone layer (Cladwell, 2006). Also, the irresponsible management of the waste produced causes damage to the environment. Regardless, mining companies continue to thrive despite the environmental toll.
The United States government has always been involved in ensuring miner safety. When the deaths and accidents from the mines became increasingly high in the early 1900s, the government formed a commission dubbed the U.S Bureau of Mines to look into the accidents and the measures that could be taken to reduce them (United Sates Department of Labor, n.d.). The government has also been involved in the establishment of several laws that regulate the activities of the mining industries. Branches of the government such as the Department of Labor, in cooperation with mining companies, are continuously engaged in activities that seek to improve the safety of the practice.
The liability of mining safety should lie with both the employee and the employer. The employee is responsible for completing any work training that is required and adhering to the health and safety standards and procedures provided by the employer (Cladwell, n.d.). As such, the employee will be able to properly use the equipment, lookout for their personal safety and reduce the occurrence of accidents. The employer, on the other hand, is responsible for ensuring that the mine has a well-written health and safety plan, all the people that work in the mine are properly trained professionals, enforcing health and safety standards and procedures and conducting risk analysis and planning for safety (Cladwell, n.d.). If both the employer and employee play their part, the number of accidents in the mines is bound to reduce.
I find it interesting that coal mining is widely supported regardless of the environmental impact that stems from the practice. Surface mining of coal destroys vegetation, the genetic profile of the soil, wildlife habitat, air quality and the topography of the mining area. The waste products produced by these mines have a significant effect on human and ecological life. Methane, a green house gas, is released from the mines and into the air, therefore increasing the progression of global warming. While it is commendable that the safety of miners in modern collieries is guaranteed, there needs to be more effort towards the protection of the environment.
Cladwell, J. (2006, August 12). Mining Ethics. Retrieved from http://technology.infomine.com/MiningEthics/#_Toc145729004
Cladwell, J. (n.d.). Mining Health & Safety Laws, Regulations, and Procedures | Health & Safety - TechnoMine. Retrieved from http://technology.infomine.com/reviews/HAS/welcome.asp?view=full
Hayes, G. (2004). Coal Mining. Shire Publications Ltd.
Mining-Technology.com. (2014, May 16). The world's worst coal mining disasters - Mining Technology. Retrieved March 6, 2017, from http://www.mining-technology.com/features/feature-world-worst-coal-mining-disasters-china/
Rice, G. S. (1928). Safety in coal mining, a handbook by George S. Rice. Washington: Government printing Office.
Sari, M., Karpuz, C., & Selçuk, A. S. (2001). An International Comparison of Turkish Coal Mining Industry Safety Performance. Mine Planning and Equipment Selection, 917-922.
United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). MSHA Fact Sheets - Injury Trends in Mining. Retrieved from https://arlweb.msha.gov/mshainfo/factsheets/mshafct2.htm
World Coal Association. (n.d.). Mining safety | World Coal Association. Retrieved from https://www.worldcoal.org/coal/coal-mining/mining-safety
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