At the 36th International Conference of Safety in Mines Research Institutes, which was held from October 25 to 27, mining industry experts discussed efforts to improve mine safety, educate workers about their rights, and enforce those rights. Nearly 200 delegates from around the world attended workshops and lectures at the conference.
Health and safety are major areas of concern for the mining industry. Since 1968, black lung disease has caused or contributed to 76,000 deaths in the United States.
Joe Main was appointed assistant secretary of labor for the Mine Safety and Health Administration in 2009. Since then, he and his team have worked to improve working conditions, support workers’ rights, and collaborate with mining companies to make mining in the United States safer and healthier.
Main said his organization began its efforts by identifying areas in which regulations needed to be improved to increase miners’ health and safety. They began to crack down on companies violating mining laws, improved training for workers, and issued a handbook to educate them on their rights.
The efforts have been successful. The number of chronic violators dropped from 51 to one, the most serious infractions are down 40 percent, and there were only 16 coal mining deaths in 2014, the lowest number in the history of American coal mining.
The organization is also introducing new technology to improve miners’ safety. It will introduce a device next year that will allow miners to monitor the amount of dust they are exposed to in a shift to prevent black lung disease.
Consultant Jim Joy said the mining industry is only beginning to realize the importance of human behavior in mining safety. He said managers need to consider factors such as fatigue and stress and make better use of technology to improve safety. He also said mining companies often exceed the safety standards set by regulators.
Leo Gerard, the international president of the United Steel Workers Union, believes standardized training is need for all workers and managers to improve health and safety. He said USW does work in other industries to improve safety that could serve as an example for the mining industry. The group has formed health and safety committees, visited facilities, and made recommendations.
Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani believes managers need to care about their workers to protect their safety. He encourages members of the mining industry to share information and resources to promote health and safety.