Speaking Out for Young Workers

Speaking Out for Young Workers

Commentary and news on occupational health and safety for young workers.


As I caught up on the news this morning...

As I caught up on the news this morning, I was horrified as I read about the shooting that occurred at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine (Warning: the linked article contains graphic pictures). A complicated labor dispute ending in a bloody battle has brought mines to the attention of the international press. However, miners die every day with little notice from our global community. I sat for a moment and reflected on the story: what this event means to the people of South Africa versus what it probably means to most Americans, especially considering that mining is becoming an ever increasingly attractive job here in the US for young workers because of the pay.

I started to think of a book I read years ago, Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One. In this book, the main character, Peekay tells the story of his life growing up in South Africa and his journey to become a welterweight champion. But, what made me think about the book in relation to the current news is that in Book Three of this novel, Peekay takes a job working in the mines to pay his way through Oxford.  While working in the mine, Peekay is trapped during a major mining accident and saved by a fellow miner, who dies in the process. Through Peekay’s story, you hear about the realities of what conditions were like working in a mine in the 1930’s and 1940’s. This book was instrumental in fostering my passion and interest in workplace health and safety.

I began to wonder what news stories go unnoticed about mining every day. So as an exercise to take a snapshot of what is printed about mines in a 24 hour period, I searched Google for news stories related to mining accidents in the last 24 hours and what I found was eye-opening. Here are some of the stories I found.  There are too many.

·         In Kinshasa, Congo on Monday, a landslide at a gold mine took the lives of at least 60 people. Rescue efforts to save any miners potentially trapped but still alive were hindered by the dense jungle and that the area is controlled by a militia.

·         Half a world away, in Lexington, Kentucky, an official at the Manalapan Mining Company pleaded guilty to federal charges related to failing to note and correct hazardous conditions in the mine. The company that he works for and two of his fellow employees that were indicted pleaded not guilty. 

·         Not too far from Kentucky in Morgantown, West Virginia, 3 employees were injured while working on a drilling operation when a spark caused a methane ignition resulting in a gas well fire.

·         Ironically, as blood was shed over the labor dispute in South Africa, a federal court in Australia ruled that workers who live in mining camps can be denied accommodations if they go on strike.

·         In China, a breaking news story reported that at least 18 miners are trapped in the latest mining accident.

·         Yesterday, an article was posted about a Tibetan that was killed during a protest against Chinese mines.

·         In an article by Franklin Briceno, that details the story of townspeople who have become sick as a result of a copper mining spill in Peru brings to light that conditions in mines also impact an entire community and not just the workers themselves.

·         In another copper mine in Chile, an explosion has left two workers dead.

·         And finally, in Cote Blanche, Louisiana, the North American Salt Mine was shut down because of working conditions.  Since 2009, the company has received over 400 health and safety violations from MSHA (the Mine Safety and Health Administration).