The rescue under way of the 33 trapped Chilean miners underscores that – even in a year of numerous deadly accidents – mining fatalities are going down, The Christian Science Monitor reports.
One factor is that improved technology and rescue techniques appear to have increased the chance of survival in a disaster.
As the Monitor noted, the Chilean rescue effort at the San Jose mine is believed to be the deepest ever and the survivors have been underground longer — nearly 10 weeks — than anyone previously who has made it out alive. The first rescued miner, Florencio Avalos, was brought to the surface at 12:12 a.m. local time Wednesday in a metal cage less than 22 inches wide.
Successful rescues also have been carried out this year at a coal mine in Shanxi, China, as well as at a gold mine in the Philippines in 2008, and at Pennsylvania´s Quecreek coal mine in 2002.
While underground mining remains among the most hazardous trades, fatalities appear to have fallen sharply over the decades. Some mining experts say workers are more likely to be hit by a car on the way to work than killed while extracting iron ore, coal or precious metals.
Michael Nelson, chair of mining and engineering at the University of Utah, credited changing societal expectations and the high costs of fatal accidents, including wrongful death lawsuits, for leading to safety improvements.
Still, experts said, safety standards remain uneven internationally, with the biggest mining companies generally enforcing better practices than smaller operators.
In the U.S., the number of coal mining deaths stood at 3,242 in 1907 versus 18 last year. In U.S. mining overall, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the death toll last year was a record low of 34. This year, however, here have been 60 U.S. mining deaths, including 29 in April’s Upper Big Branch disaster in West Virginia.
China disclosed 2,631 mining deaths last year, down from about 7,000 in 2002, although observers say many deaths there and elsewhere around the world may go unreported.
In Chile, according to national authorities, the number of incapacitating injuries per million work hours fell from 33 in 1989 to 4 last year.
Still, even as Chileans took pride in the rescue of miners trapped for nearly 10 weeks, Keith Slack, a mining expert with Oxfam America, noted that an analysis of what went wrong still needs to be conducted.
“The situation illustrates the need for stronger regulations and enforcement of existing regulations in the mining sector across Latin America” and around the world, he said.
Backlog of Mining Safety Disputes Worsens Despite Obama Administration Reform Effort
28 Miners Killed This Year in Accidents Besides the Upper Big Branch Disaster
As Coal Mining Deaths Mount So Does Proof of Industry Indifference to Workers