Mining Disaster in Chile: When Will Worker Safety Be a Priority?

Aug 27, 2010
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart.
Food and water are sent down to the miners through this tube. (Photo: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

The 33 miners trapped 700 meters below the ground in Chile have brought the world's attention once again to mining disasters across the globe.

Mining explosions and cave-ins happen with distressing regularity.

In Chile, the miners have been underground since the beginning of August. They may not be rescued for three months.

The Chilean health minister, Jaime Mañalich said, according to The Guardian, "We hope to be with them—and their families hope to be with them—before Christmas."

Other mining disasters this year include:

A mining collapse in Ghana this June killed 70 people mining for gold. 

A gas explosion at a coal mine in Colombia was fatal to more than 70 miners.

In April, the West Virginia mine disaster was the deadliest in over a quarter-century in the U.S. The explosion took 29 lives.

The list of this year's deadly incidents is almost certainly not finished.

In Chile, families are suing the mining firm, San Esteban Primera, for a lack of worker safety. Over the past six years, three people have died in the firm's mines, and it has accumulated 42 fines for failing to protect workers.

Following the third death, the company, as stated by the Daily Telegraph, "was told to install ladders in escape tunnels for miners to use in the event of shaft collapses but failed to do so."

In response to the mine collapse, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has set up a Commission for Worker Safety intended to improve job conditions.

The West Virginia shaft where 29 miners were killed was, according to The Washington Post, "written up more than 50 times last month for safety violations. Twelve of the citations involved problems with ventilating the mine and preventing a buildup of deadly methane."

Richard L. Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and former head of the United Mine Workers of America, said of mining disasters like the one in West Virginia, "Many mining companies have given too little attention to safety over the years and too much to the bottom line."

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