MAC: Mines and Communities

Many mining deaths go unrecorded: ICEM

Published by MAC on 2010-10-18
Source: Reuters, EFE, Pittsburg Tribune-Review (2010-10-11)

At least 12,000 mine workers go to their deaths each year, due to lack of safety regulation, according to the world's leading mineworkers' federation.

But many fatalities are not recorded, says the ICEM - pointing out that only 24 countries have ratified the ILO Safety and Health in Mines Convention.

While the signatories include the United States, Brazil, Peru and South Africa, among those "shunning the 1995 pact" are Australia, Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Russia, Ukraine - and Chile.

Fatalities go unrecorded in mining industry: experts

By Stephanie Nebehay

Reuters

11 October 2010

Geneva - Many fatalities go unrecorded in the mining industry, where many workers face deadly hazards underground and potential cover-ups by management and authorities if accidents occur, experts said on Monday.

The saga of 33 miners trapped in Chile since an August 5 cave-in in a tunnel 2,300 feet below the surface has exposed perilous labor conditions in a booming sector chasing strong prices for gold, coal and copper.

The men caught in the San Jose copper and gold mine, whom Chilean officials hope to start evacuating on Wednesday, have set a world record for the length of time workers have survived underground after a mining accident.

There are no reliable global statistics for deaths in one of the world's most dangerous jobs, but a Geneva-based trade unions federation estimates there are 12,000 fatalities per year.

"These are only recorded ones that we are able to track," said Dick Blin, spokesman of the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM).

"A lot of mining deaths aren't recorded. It is really hard to put a number of it. In a lot of countries, management will go to the widows or family and give them money and make them sign statements not to talk about it. The problem is very prevalent in China," he told Reuters.

China Tops Deaths Table

Major mining accidents claiming dozens of lives each have occurred this year in China, Colombia, Russia and West Virginia in the United States, while at least 200 died in Sierra Leone.

Mines require both regular inspections and enforcement of safety measures, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a United Nations agency.

"There are a lot of dangers inherent to mining. They are working underground in an environment which might not be stable. There are possible rock slips, inrushes of water and gases like methane," Martin Hahn, ILO mine safety expert told Reuters.

Coal-mining tends to be most dangerous because of the likely presence of methane, a toxic asphyxiating gas that can be explosive, depending on the concentration, he said.

Large companies tend to have a good system of inspections in place, but in many countries the sector is marked by small-scale mining where workers labor in appalling conditions outside state control, according to Hahn, who declined to name names.

Mines in China -- the world's largest coal producer and consumer which employs 5.5 million coal miners --- are "definitely recognized as the world's deadliest" despite government pledges to shut or consolidate many small or unsafe operations, said ICEM's Blin.

China's official mining death toll last year was 2,631, down from some 7,000 in 2002. This year, a fire at a colliery in Hunan in January killed at least 25 while a fire at a gold mine in the east killed 16 in August.

Russia, one of the world's top five coal exporters, is conducting an in-depth mine safety campaign following a blast at the Raspadskaya coking coal mine in Siberia in May that killed some 90 people.

Only 24 countries have ratified the ILO Safety and Health in Mines Convention -- including major industry players such as the United States, Brazil, Peru and South Africa.

But Chile -- the world's top copper producer -- as well as Australia, Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Russia and Ukraine are among those who have shunned the 1995 pact.

(Editing by Jonathan Lynn)


Miner Dies in Accident in Northern Chile

EFE

8 October 2010

SANTIAGO - A worker died at Chuquicamata, the world's largest open-pit copper mine, when a huge rock fell on him, Chilean state-owned mining giant Codelco said.

Jaime Eduardo Gutierrez Zapata, 44, was working in the mine's Stock 58 sector on Wednesday when the accident occurred, Codelco said.

A 10-ton rock fell on the miner while he was engaged in drilling and cracking work.

"Codelco Norte wants to reaffirm its permanent commitment to the safety of everyone who works for the company," the state-owned company said.

News of the accident comes as Chileans live through the drama of 33 miners trapped since Aug. 5 at a mine in northern Chile.

The effort to rescue the miners is in its final phase, with three drills being used to create a rescue shaft for the men, who are trapped some 700 meters (2,275 feet) underground at the San Jose mine.


Communities struggling to recover from Montcoal mine disaster

By Chris Togneri

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

3 October 2010

COAL RIVER VALLEY, W.Va. - Stanley "Goose" Stewart spends most days sitting in a lawn chair, staring at the densely forested mountains surrounding his home.

In the cemetery next door lie three of his closest friends, fellow miners who were killed April 5 when a still-unexplained explosion tore through the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal.

Stewart used to be an avid hunter, runner and fisher. He had lots of friends, most of whom don't stop by or call anymore. And that's just fine, Stewart said Thursday, standing in his gravel driveway. He finds no enjoyment in anything and wants people to leave him alone.

"There is something in me, eating me from the inside out, and I don't know what it is, and it won't come out," said Stewart, 54, who ran from the blast that killed 29 miners and injured two inside Upper Big Branch. He'll never mine coal again.

"I am hoping I can get back to normal, but it just seems like I'm getting worse. The last two or three weeks, I've been worse than I was even right after it happened. I don't know if it's possible I'll ever be normal again. I'm hoping it is."

Six months after the deadliest U.S. coal mine disaster in 40 years, residents in the string of coal-mining towns tucked into small valleys along the Coal River between Charleston and Beckley struggle to restore normalcy to their lives.

Many doubt they will fully recover.

"Not in our lifetime. Not even in our kids' lifetimes," said Jennie Bennet, 35, of Whitesville, the wife of a Massey Energy Co. miner. "Whenever there's an ambulance or a helicopter, the kids are always asking if there was another accident, if another miner died. They'll never forget."

Still, someone must mine the coal in the dozens of mines here. So every day, hundreds of men throughout the valley kiss their wives and kids goodbye, and head underground.

"The goodbyes have gotten a lot longer," Bennet said.

"And at the end of the day, the kids know when daddy's supposed to be home," said Heather Walker, 31, of Sylvester, whose husband works in another of Massey's mines in the area. "If daddy's late, they start to panic."

Investigations of the blast continue.

State officials hope to report their findings by summer 2011, state mine safety director Ron Wooten said. Officials with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration have not announced a timeline, though coal administrator Kevin Stricklin said in September that the underground phase of the investigation is 90 percent complete. Public hearings will follow.

Massey, which owns Upper Big Branch, received MSHA approval Thursday to begin an investigation.

In the months after the blast, Massey has waged a public relations battle with MSHA over the pace and methods of the investigations. In a letter to shareholders Thursday, the company accused federal investigators of damaging evidence.

Last month, MSHA officials said rock dust samples inside the mine show high levels of coal dust that could have contributed to the explosion. Massey said the results were misleading and the methods of collecting samples are "unproven." Instead, Massey emphasizes a large crack in the mine floor that could have flooded the mine with methane.

"The government has been focused on vilifying and generic criticism, rather than focusing on the cause and figuring out ways to prevent it from happening again," Massey CEO Don Blankenship said in an interview with the Tribune-Review in Pittsburgh last week. "There is a lot of room to make (safety) improvements. I'm hoping we make them, rather than simply vilify (Massey)."

In the Coal River valley, some residents don't believe they will ever know what happened April 5.

"The main thing in this area is the unknown," said Diane Hodge, who runs Whitesville's community center, where locals gather for quilting, banjo playing and almond-butter-making lessons.

"Not knowing what happened or why those men lost their lives, I think that's been on everybody's mind," said Hodge, 58, of Clear Fork. "Oh, we may get a short story on what they think happened, but we're still going to have our doubts.

"Some will think it's a cover-up; others will say it was an accident, unavoidable. Everyone has their opinion. Mine is, I don't believe those men should have died. I think there should've been some steps taken, and they weren't. I think we lost 29 men for nothing."

The mine remains closed, but Massey plans to resume mining operations in sections of the mine unaffected by the blast. Workers are digging an entry into the mountain, although company officials declined to say when they would finish.

Blankenship said 50 to 55 miners are working at the mine in preparation of its reopening. Massey transferred 60 to 70 employees to other mines, and some - Blankenship put the number at "single digits" - decided they no longer can mine underground.

Stewart is one of them.

For 34 years, he went into the earth, never missing a day of work, he said. In 1997, he survived an explosion in Upper Big Branch.

On April 5, he was riding in a mantrip 300 feet underground, heading to the work area where the ignition happened. He felt a rush of wind. The miners ran for daylight. The wind became so strong, Stewart said, it felt like his legs were going to lift off the ground.

"Some of the guys thought it was a roof collapse," Stewart said. "I said, 'That wasn't no roof collapse. The dadgum place blew up.' I knew it."

It took more than a week to remove the miners' bodies.

Stewart testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor, in Beckley and Washington, that conditions inside the mine were unsafe. He said miners complained that managers forced them to tamper with methane monitors, and that anyone who complained about conditions was told dozens of men would gladly take the job.

"It was a cult-like atmosphere at Massey. You just kept your mouth shut," Stewart said. "I broke the code. But that's all right - I'm going to keep breaking it."

Blankenship's response: "Anyone who knows me knows I put safety first. We had a really good safety record up to this point."

Before the accident, MSHA records show Massey and Cecil-based Consol Energy Inc. each had 23 fatalities since 2000, leading the U.S. coal industry.

In Whitesville, signs urging passing motorists to "Pray for our Miners" mostly are gone. A wreath remains in front of the mine entrance, with 26 orange hearts. Three hearts fell off during bad weather, residents said.

People want to build a permanent memorial. The Miners Memorial Park will have a play area for kids, with a tipple - used for emptying coal from rail cars - and water feature, and monuments for all miners.

A nine-person committee is trying to raise money for the park through a Facebook page - Whitesville Miners Memorial - that gained more than 1,000 friends. They'll soon activate a website - http://www.minersmemorialpark.com/

Recovery is long and difficult, said the Rev. Bart Elkins, pastor of Amazing Grace Fellowship in Seth. But faith guides people here, he said, noting the blast occurred the day after most of the miners attended Easter services. Four or five of the miners' families told him they "came to Jesus" during that service and decided to dedicate their lives to God.

"We know this is not the end," Elkins said. "Living in the Bible Belt like we do ... I think that brought a lot of comfort."

Yet Stewart cannot find comfort.

He recalled performing CPR on the first seven miners brought out of the mine after the blast and said seeing his lifeless brothers, their faces blackened by the blast, causes him to look at people and picture how they might look dead.

"I can't stop it," he said. "I see people walking around, and I know exactly how they'd look dead."

He admits that he drinks too much beer, lacks motivation, and gets frustrated easily. He can't sleep without pills, and nightmares interrupt the sleep he gets.

"I had one last night," Stewart said. "I was in the mine, all by myself. I was walking towards a set of doors, and I knew that if I could just get through those doors, I'd be OK before it all blows up. But when I got through the doors, I realized that I'm not OK. I've got to keep going to the next set of doors. So I ran, and I just kept motorin' and motorin' ...

"And then I woke up."

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