Until 2001, mining was listed as the most dangerous industry job and in 2010, the Chilean Miners incident that shook the world but have mines been made safer places because of it? I would like to explore the health risks that miners face every day and if anything is being done about it for the International Day for Mine Awareness.

While the 33 Chilean miners were underground, there was risk of the air in the chamber and their inability to move causing blood clots but there are many daily dangers that miners face also:

  • Dust- if fine mineral dust from drilling and blasting builds up in the lungs can cause pneumoconiosis which causes fibrosis [1] therefore making it more difficult to breathe due to the reduced surface area of the lungs and increased diffusion distance of oxygen. Another form of this disease is caused from inhaling large amounts of quartz and another is black lung for those who work in coal mines.
  • Radon- being exposed to radon for a long time increases risk of lung cancer because it’s radioactive1[1]
  • Heavy Metals- Mercury is an example of a heavy metal which is present in 25 organic minerals found in mines [1] and exposure to even small quantities of it can lead to severe mercury poisoning leading to symptoms of cardiac weakness, mouth ulcers, bleeding gums, nausea, abdominal pain, headaches and diarrhoea [1].
  • Hazardous gases
  • Fumes- fumes consist of vaporised molten metals and long term exposure can cause an irritated respiratory tract and poisoning as well as pneumoconiosis
  • Loud noises- causes hearing loss and eardrum rupture
  • Heavy loads could cause back problems and falls and accounts for 25% of mining injuries [1].
  • Explosions
  • Cave-ins
  • Equipment accidents

To combat these risks, the US Mine Safety and Health Administration claims to have brought in stronger regulations and safer machinery and more training initiatives over the last 25 years [1]. Examples of these include ventilation systems and ear protectors and black lung has been eradicated. In the US, things have improved a lot, achieving a record low of deaths in the mines in 2009, with 34/352,600 dying and US Miners having 11,800 work-related injuries compared to in the late 80s where the number was 27,524 annually. However, what about less developed countries? On the US’s side of the world it has become unacceptable to die at work but what about in other areas of the world?

In [2], where 800 mineral mines in 44 developing countries were assessed, it was found that there was an increase of wealth in mining communities but health risks increased with a 10% rise in women who had anaemia and a 5% increase in stunted growth in children. These observations are strongly concentrated in the vicinity less than 5km away from the mine. I wasn’t able to find much information on this area of mining health risks but it seems like the environmental and health related consequences are neglected under the pressure of political and economic challenges- is it accurate that good occupational health can only be achieved with national development so that not only health but child labour, safety for women and men at work, pension schemes, support for the disabled and older workers, compensation for accidents can then be achieved? Health will only be considered if there is a shift in perception or shift in regulations and enforcement of these regulations in countries where the companies ignore international recommendations but the political risk of doing so if foreboding.

[1]http://www.livescience.com/11173-miners-face-health-risks-good-days.html

[2]https://www.cgdev.org/event/health-wealth-trade-offs-effects-mineral-mining-developing-countries

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