The Deadliest Killers Below Ground

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Coal mining is and always has been one of the dangerous professions in the world. Getting inside with massive machines into a dark underground chamber filled with explosive methane could cause disasters one way or other. Although, today’s mining industries adapt high safety measures, the risk is present inherently. The recent Turkey mine accident is a painful reminder of these hazards. The human death toll due to mining accident is estimated around 12,000 per year. This is only the direct death amounts caused in the coal extraction. American Lung association says that long-time miners suffer from heart diseases or cancer or respiratory problems. The people who die by just working inside the mines are estimated to be 13,000 in US alone. Such statistics don’t even cover whole story of the damage, but still even these figures are dismaying. Mining also wreaks havoc upon the environment.

However, we can’t undermine the fact that coal is the fastest growing source of energy. China alone is said to have produced and consumed as much coal as the rest of the world. Europe’s coal habit is also described as key point for the expanding coal industries. US export a lot of Sulphur-heavy coal to the EU. For years, World Health Organization has recommended a change from coal in energy supply, but the low prices of this energy resource might never allow for a change.

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If the mining activities can’t be stopped, then our only way is to impose stringent safety measures. Explosion is the usual form of mining accident, which could be caused by flammable natural gases and combustible coal dust in the air. The explosions could trap the miners by blocking escape routes. The outflows of poisonous gases such as methane might cause asphyxiation. Mine props collapse, blasting, flooding, and electric shocks, and there are also many forms of accidents that could take place inside a mine. The existing technologies that could prevent the loss of life are mostly available at affordable prices. Wireless communications, computer-data management and remote sensors could make it easy for the operators to monitor the conditions of hundreds or even thousands of people, working thousands of feet below the surface. But, the problem is most of the mining industries never uses these available technologies.

In 1907, in USA’s West Virginia, a mining explosion killed 362 people. Similar mining accidents in those periods drew attention to the need for a U.S. Bureau of Mines to improve workplace safety. In 1913-1914, the violent Colorado coal strike, which held out for 14 months, stimulated US public opinion and eventually symbolized the wave of progressive era reforms in labor relations. A decade back China accounted for approximately 80% of the total deaths in coal mine accidents worldwide. It is a huge death toll, considering the notoriously poor safety record in India. The overwhelming majority in the Chinese mining disasters are migrant peasants from rural areas, who belong to the most vulnerable of the social groups in China. Now, China has brought upon stringent safety regulations, yet mining accidents are continuing to haunt China as there are no transparent legal & institutional frameworks.

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The recent mining disaster in Soma mine is not considered as unusual accident in Turkey. We could think that the problem lies entirely with Turkey’s health and safety provision, but we can’t overlook the fact that the forces that drive these industries mostly hail from Europe. Politics also place a huge role in these tragedies. Only two weeks earlier, Prime Minister Erdogan’s government in Turkey voted down a proposal from all the other political parties to investigate mine safety at the Soma mine. The owner of the Soma mine, an acquaintance of Erdogan’s party, has also recently boasted that he has reduced production costs from around $130 per ton of coal to around $23. These privatized mines, which has all the local politicians in its pocket are giving precedence to production over workers’ safety.

The hard safety measures may eventually save workers from mining explosions, but definitely not from these politicians with a burning crave for money and power.

 

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