More employer and state commitment towards worker representation on health and safety issues can better protect coal miners in developing countries, new research suggests.
Researchers from Cardiff University, funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), found that worker representation is restricted in many ways by mine management in India and Indonesia, two of the countries they studied.
In these countries, mineworkers are exposed to health and safety risks more regularly than those working in advanced economies.
The researchers set out to examine how workers are represented on health and safety issues in countries with differing economic profiles. They also examined mines in Australia, Canada and South Africa.
The study found that workers have the potential to significantly contribute to improved health and safety in coal mines in all the countries studied, but this was far more developed in some countries than others.
In Australia, the researchers noted that mineworkers were able to make effective representations to management on health and safety matters and could stop dangerous work without fear of reprisal. There is a similar story in Canada and South Africa, though to a more limited extent.
This is not the case in India and Indonesia. One representative in India is quoted in the report as saying: “Our miners have worked with water over their heads (in the upper compartment), something no one should have to because it is clearly unsafe. But the management pushed us to carry on as that got their high yield in a short span of time.”
The researchers concluded: “[There is] a strong need for greater levels of commitment and support for representation from the state and its agencies in these countries in order for it to stand some chance of success. There may be a role for global actors and standards to be more persuasive at this level.”
Among the health and safety risks in mines are those posed by fire and explosions, flooding, rock falls and outbursts of poisonous gas, all of which can cause serious injury and death.
The researchers found that while the risks are ubiquitous to mining globally, “they are not experienced equally in all countries”.
The research report notes that a lack of resources in the mines they visited in India, for example, “impacted strongly” on the “substantial inequality in their risk profiles”.
Other contributing factors to this inequality include mining techniques, age and depth of mines and geological challenges.
The findings also highlight an issue of resourcing for mine inspections by regulatory inspectorates in developing countries, as well as the capacity and competency for existing inspectors.
Richard Jones, IOSH’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs, said it is crucial more steps are taken for greater competence development and worker involvement.
He said: “This research supports the principle that effective worker involvement can help bring health and safety improvement. But, importantly, this doesn’t happen in isolation. It needs effective regulation and management commitment, together with access to good training and protection of contractors.
“The study also underlines the potential of international standards in helping transcend national and economic boundaries for health and safety.
“As well as highlighting these important issues, this IOSH-funded research provides useful insight in the shape of national case studies. These can potentially assist both governments and organisations in improving health and safety management in the operation of coal mines in countries around the world.”
Professor David Walters, who led the research, said: “In countries where the regulatory steer is weaker and unions have less influence, the impact of workplace arrangements on their occupational safety and health outcomes is far less significant.
“The study provides a strong message to the industry and its regulators that the time for them to show greater support for these arrangements is long overdue.”
The International Labour Organization estimates that although mining only accounts for one percent of the global workforce, it is responsible for about eight per cent of fatal accidents at work. It doesn’t break these figures down by country, while the researchers highlighted an issue of under-reporting in some countries.
View the research.