Tuesday, 6 April 2010


“Who can hope to be safe? who sufficiently cautious? Guard himself as he may, every moment's an ambush.” - Horace

News of the coalmine disaster in West Virginia has landed on my computer screen. This is right after the dramatic rescue of miners in Shanxi, China after spending nine days in a flooded mine a few days ago. China has a long history of mining accidents and many miners have unfortunately perished, as the safety standards are not as high as they are in most other parts of the world. The rescue effort yesterday and the miraculous return of 115 miners to the surface surprised everyone not least the Chinese themselves who are used to many a fatal mining accident on a regular basis.

Five bodies have been recovered now, and those were the unlucky ones… Unfortunately 33 more miners are still missing, also suspected dead. The Chinese miners accused their bosses of ignoring warning signs of danger as water was noticed leaking into the pit days before the latest disaster. Unfortunately the workers’ pleas were unheeded and when disaster struck, everyone expected the worse. I can only imagine the terror of those trapped workers in the wet darkness as they ate pine tree bark from construction wood poles and drank cold water to stay alive for the eight days and nights they were underground... In any case most survived!

Which tragically is not the same for the American miners. Although safety standards and better working conditions are the case in the USA, the accident yesterday confirms the fact that mining is a dangerous occupation in any country of the world. At least 25 miners are dead and four are still missing. I think of this and the thought of these innocent lives lost while trying to earn a living for their families haunts me. Each of them left their families the previous day and went into the mine, the thought of death far from their mind. Each spouse, child, relative and friend waited to see them back after work but instead this tragic piece of news that interrupted so many lives by putting an end to some of them.

There will always be mines and there will always be accidents. However, it is up to us as a society to demand safe working environments for everyone who works for a living. It is up to us to ensure that mines are safe and that full precautions are taken to make this occupation as safe as possible. That is the only way to reduce the number of accidents and reduce the number of deaths. We must reaffirm our commitment to the prevention of accidents, injuries, illnesses and death in the workplace. We must demand prevention programs and the stringent enforcement of health and safety laws.


  1. I have spent time in West Virginia. Nobody that works in the mines or has loved ones that work in the minds puts the possibility of death in the deep dark far from their minds.

    I am reminded of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that went off to work in the mines singing "whistle while you work." Whistling was a way of letting your work mates know where you were and to pierce the total silence of the coal veins.

    The veins of coal and ore lie along often unstable fault lines and were laid in by volcanic activity in prehistory. There are now in the United States machines that monitor air quality instead of canaries in cages which are still used in some Asian mines.

    There is no way to make mining safe just a bit less dangerous.

  2. These are really tragic events, Nic and mining is an occupation that has always had a bad track record regarding safety.
    I feel for the families of the killed miners who not only lost their loved ones but also will no have to struggle as the breadwinner has been eliminated.