Working environments in the mining industry can often be hazardous, with the threat of a fire, flood, explosion, collapse, or other accidents affecting a large number of people simultaneously. Over 3.3 billion tonnes of metals are produced each year globally as the mining sector offers raw materials, minerals, and metals essential to the economy, and the global mining sector is showing no signs of slowing down.
According to UK Government research, most demand forecasts predict a rise in metal use in the coming decades, including in renewable energy generation, electric cars and batteries. With this increase in demand and production, key changes to the global mining industry could be necessary to improve its safety performance, from increased government oversight to labour reform, to ensure workers are safe and accidents are prevented.
A coal mine collapsed in the Mexican municipality of Sabinas, causing a tunnel to flood and confine the employees. On 3 August 2022, workers were caught inside a coal mine near Sabinas, 70 miles from Eagle Pass on the US-Mexico border, when it collapsed and trapped them. Five miners were able to flee, and according to the country’s disaster ministry, rescuers in Mexico, including hundreds of troops, laboured on 4 August to rescue ten workers stranded in the flooded coal mine when an interior wall collapsed.
The Mexican authorities initiated a rescue operation involving an underwater drone and multiple pumps to empty the inundated shafts. However, officials were unable to reach the stranded miners.
In the aftermath of the coal mining accident, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has proposed harsher mining controls, including formalising a freeze on new concessions. The government has previously set a freeze on further mineral concessions, with the current President saying that past governments granted mining firms too many benefits.
A coal mine in southern Poland killed five and trapped seven people, Prime Minister Mateusz Jakub Morawiecki told reporters on 20 April 2022, in a tragedy triggered by an early-morning explosion. According to JSW, an energy company, a methane explosion occurred just after midnight at a depth of 1,000 metres in the Pniowek coal mine near Pawłowice.
There were 42 miners in the region at the time, with 21 people brought to the hospital, according to the report. The prime minister added that a second explosion in the mine killed the rescue workers. After two accidents in a week in April, Morawiecki pledged to evaluate safety standards at the country’s mining sites.
Poland began its transition away from coal more than 30 years ago. Since then, hard coal output has plummeted by 63%, from 147 million tonnes in 1990 to 54 million tonnes in 2020, while mining employment has decreased by 80%, from roughly 390,000 to 80,000 jobs. The free-market economy that grew after the country overthrew communism in 1989 has made hard coal mining less competitive.
A mining disaster in Western Ghana killed 17 and wounded hundreds, prompting criticism of the country’s industry’s failed safety rules. The explosion happened on 20 January in the mining community of Bogoso, around 300 kilometres west of Accra, the West African country’s capital. A truck transporting explosives to the Chirano gold mine collided with a motorcycle, damaging buildings and injuring nearly 500 people. A provincial emergency officer found ten bodies at the site.
In 1972, the government launched a strategy to “take over the commanding heights of the economy” by indigenising several commercial operations, including mines. Ghana has dealt with a rise in illegal mining, resulting in badly-contaminated waterbodies and other environmental problems, and while these background factors did not affect the Bosogo disaster, there are concerns that these shortcomings have not been addressed.
President Nana Akufo-Addo authorised the Ghana Armed Forces to launch an operation in 2021 to remove any people and logistics whose mining activities occur in any waterbody or within 100m of major waterbodies to combat illegal mining and its detrimental environmental impacts, particularly on the nation’s waterbodies.
On 23 July 2022, ten people were killed, and seven were injured, when a mine in northwest China collapsed. According to state-run news channel CCTV, a part of a mountain near the mine caved in Gansu province, burying workers and cars. In December 2022, a similar collapse occurred in China’s southwest Guizhou province. When the mine caved in on a Saturday afternoon, 40 people worked at the mine in Yining county, around 100 kilometres from the Kazakhstan border.
Fixed asset investment in China’s mining industry increased by 24.1% year on year in 2019.
According to the China Labour Bulletin, labour laws and workplace safety rules in China give workers the right to a safe working environment, yet many mine owners are alleged to disregard them.
There are concerns that that workers’ health and safety can only be adequately maintained once employees can form autonomous trade unions and worker safety committees, particularly in high-risk industries like coal mines, and labour reform could prove to be a prerequisite to improved safety in the Chinese mining industry.
According to local authorities, five people were confirmed dead in February 2022 when a rubbish pile fell on residents attempting to extract coal from an abandoned open-cast mine owned by state-run Coal India in the eastern state of Jharkhand. The accident happened early Tuesday in Gopinathpur, roughly 400 kilometres from Ranchi, the state’s capital, according to police.
Later that year, on 15 October, a stone quarry collapse in the state of Mizoram killed at least eight labourers and left four more missing. According to local officials, the open-pit mine trapped 12 miners, meaning the safety figures for Indian mining in 2022 are grim reading. Though the number of accidents in India has gradually declined, coal mining remains one of the most dangerous. According to government data, Reuters reported, one coal miner died on the job every 12 days on average in 2020.
Although state governments control many mines, India’s mining industry has a terrible health and safety record, according to the British Safety Council. However, trade unions say that efforts to privatise mines might undermine safety standards, putting employees’ lives in danger.
Officials announced on 4 November 2022 that two South Korean miners trapped inside a collapsed zinc mine in the country’s north-eastern county of Bonghwa crawled out nine days later. According to local fire officials, the two miners walked out of the underground mine that collapsed after a landslide on 26 October after rescue operations focused on digging a hole.
The rescuers said the two survived by consuming instant, sweetened coffee powder and pitching a tent using plastic inside of the collapsed mine to keep warm.
The ministry and allied groups agreed to launch special joint inspections into 35 of the country’s 325 mines by the end of the year 2022. The ministry also stated that it would develop comprehensive steps to improve mine safety this year in close collaboration with mining associations and field employees, raising hope that increased government oversight could improve safety performance in the years to come.