Whether it be about illegal and irresponsible mining, the improper rehabilitation of mine sites, or the ignorance of one’s accountability to the environment and the communities, the discourse on mining often focuses on the disadvantages.
People always talk about the dangers of the mining industry to the environment and the communities; but rarely do we shed light on the risks it imposes to the workers themselves. According to a 2010 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fatality rates in the mining industry increased by 7.5 percent from 2009 to 2010. Additionally, a 2015 survey showed that for every 100,000 deaths in the mining industry, the greatest are caused by explosions in the site; but this is not the only hazard mine workers face every day.
Here are other risks mine workers subject themselves to during operations:
1. Coal dust
One of the most common health risks is dust inhalation or coal dust. This happens when workers are exposed to large amounts of airborne respirable dust from mining operations. This can cause a lung disease called “Coal workers’ Pneumoconiosis” or otherwise known as “miner’s lung” or “black lung.”
Black lung occurs when respirable dust settle in the lungs. As the immune system attempts to remove these particles, it will cause inflammation that, overtime, can cause scarring or “fibrosis.”
According to medical studies, there is no cure for black lung; however, there are treatments that aim to ease its symptoms like medication and pulmonary rehabilitation.
With overexposure to the constant ringing, drilling, and banging of equipment and machinery, miners are at large risk of damaging their sense of hearing. This overexposure to noise can result in “tinnitus” or the constant ringing, buzzing, hissing, chirping, or whistling sensation in the ear. This can be treated with medications like antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs.
Overexposure can also cause sleep disturbances, concentration problems, and, worse, permanent hearing loss.
3. Whole body vibration
Whole body vibration (WBV) is commonly caused by spending a lot of time near operating equipment and machineries that can result to damages in the skeletal system, cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, reproductive organ damage, and impairment of vision.
4. UV exposure
The most known source of Ultraviolet (UV) rays is the sun, but there are also artificial sources where people, especially labor workers, can be exposed to UV radiation; and whether it be minimal exposure or overexposure to these, it still poses a great danger to one’s health.
According to a study, people in the mining and quarrying industry tend to overexpose themselves to UV rays, having the highest incidence of diseases, such as skin disorders, eye injuries, and heat-related illnesses, compared to other professions.
5. Musculoskeletal disorders
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) refer to conditions affecting one’s bones, muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), MSDs are the leading cause of disability. It limits one’s mobility and dexterity that results to incapability to work.
MSDs range from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and bone fractures; and one of the common causes for these in labor work is the manual handling of equipment and machineries. One study shows that the common factors that contribute to these, especially for workers in the mining industry, are age, length of service, and working hours.
6. Thermal stress
Thermal stress are health conditions that come from overexposure to heat or cold; and miners are often subjected to hot and humid environments, making them prone to health risks like dehydration, rashes, cramps, heat exhaustion, and, worse, stroke.
According to a report, heat strokes are fatal because it can cause permanent brain, heart, and kidney damage that may lead to death.
7. Chemical hazards
Whether it be surface, open-pit, or underground mining, mine workers are at risk of chemical exposure. Some of the common hazardous chemicals present in mines are cyanide and sulfuric acid that can cause chemical burns, respiratory problems, and poisoning.
Apart from the mentioned risks, miners are, also, always at risk of natural forces. In a recent report, a PS27 machine operator died because of a mudslide within a mining site in Antique.
With as much as 236,000 Filipinos employed in the local mining industry in 2016, there are unfortunately no laws that account for the protection of mine workers.
Others may argue that the mentioned risks and hazards are beyond the control of mining corporations because these are naturally occurring; however, companies can still ensure the safety of their workers before, during, and after operations.
Mining corporations can conduct trainings and orientations to equip their workers with the mine safety measures. Likewise, mining corporations can further improve, regulate, and invest in better equipment and machinery used in mining operations.
The government should also start to take the health and well-being of the mine workers into consideration. Laws that aim to protect the workers will be a huge step in promoting their rights and welfare; and, lastly, the general public can also actively push for a more transparent press to raise awareness on these issues that mine workers face in the industry,
In the end, it is not only one part of the society that is accountable for the safety and welfare of the people but rather all sectors of society — the corporations, the government, and even the public.