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 Providing for the Safety of Miners

Introducing global standards to ensure safe environments for miners


As outlined in the problems page, companies are held to minimal standards in terms of providing a safe working environment for their employees. The system of the regulation of mining environments for workers is in need of reform. Part of Mission 2016's solution to ensure that all nations have access to rare earth elements is to open new mines and expand existing mines. As mining operations grow, so will the demand for miners, and a greater number of people will be impacted by the dangers of working in a mine. With even more people involved in the mining industry the need for strict enforcement of safe mining practices and environments also increases. The purpose of the solution to the lack of mining standards problem is to compile a system that maximizes the efficiency of the mining operations while minimizing the number of accidents, injuries, and harm to the surrounding environment.

MSHA: A Precedent for the World

The standards in place by the United States' Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) set a precedent for a global mining standard. Since the establishment of the MSHA in 1978 there has been a decreasing trend in the number of fatalities and injuries in the mining industry. The fatality rate has decreased 53% from 2002 to 2011, while the all-injury rate has decreased 41% over the same time interval (MSHA Fact Sheet, 2002). Figure 1 displays this decreasing fatality rate trend.

Figure 1: Decreasing fatality rate trend since the establishment of the MSHA.
The MSHA uses a point system to measure the progress of companies. The appeal of the system is its well-defined structure, which facilitates measurements of progress of companies. Coupled with the point system are guidelines outlining consequences for infractions of the laws. For example, one of the subcategories of the point systems is negligence. For the negligence category of special assessments, MSHA consigns

  • 5 points for a violation not contributing to an accident;
  • 7 points for Low or Moderate negligence for a violation contributing to a noninjury
  • 8 points for high or reckless disregard negligence for a violation
    contributing to a non-injury accident;
  • 10 points for a violation contributing to a lost workdays, restricted duty,
    permanently disabling or fatal accident.
    (MSHA Special Assessments, n.d.).

Proposed Regulations

A flag system modeling the point system of the MSHA will be set up by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations to regulate all current and future mining operations. Citations to companies will fall into a three-color flag system. The basis of the system is as follows:

All companies will be granted a green ranking upon establishment. Before being granted the initial green flag, global standard requirement must be met. Pre-existing companies will be given until 2014 to meet this new global standard. After establishment, yellow rankings will indicate minor violations. A company can acquire up to two yellow flags before a red flag is issued. Upon receiving a red flag the company's operations are terminated. Note that severe violations will immediately warrant a red flag notice, regardless of the number of yellow flags previously acquired. The company can only resume operations after resolving any violations and establishing a plan of action to prevent further violations. The four categories that flags will be issued under are:

  • Negligence: Failure to care for machinery or work spaces resulting in equipment failure, lost workdays, accidents and injuries, or environmental harm.
  • Unsafe Mining Practices: Failure to train supervisors and other employees resulting in equipment failure, lost workdays, accidents and injuries, or environmental harm.
  • Delay in Reporting and Responding to Accidents: Failure to report and react in a timely manner to equipment failure, lost workdays, accidents and injuries, and environmental harm.
  • History of Violations: Continuous and flagrant disregard of the above standards.

Categories constructed by the MSHA were consulted in the formulation of the above guidelines (MSHA Special Assessments, n.d.).

In order to determine the severity of a violation two criteria will be evaluated:

Environmental Harm:

In order to keep violations consistent a set of discharge standards will be established in order to quantify how much of a particular contaminant can enter the environment via air or water. The standards are modeled after standards that were put in place in Chinese mines after realizing that the condition of the environment was affecting miner health (Hurst 2010). The primary indicators when evaluating environmental harm will be:

  • Atmospheric Emissions
  • Pollution to Water Sources
The levels of contaminants will be based on standards by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. For more information on the amount of a certain pollutant that can be discharged into the environment without a violation being issued, visit the EPA website for water pollution and air pollution. The criteria take into account water pollution and air pollution. The air pollutants that will be measured are the six criteria air pollutants that the EPA set as National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS, 2012).

Miner Accidents/Trauma:

The World Health Organization on this defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity" (Hurst, 2010). The public often assumes that after any disaster, as soon as infrastructure is repaired or rebuilt and victims are rescued the problem is resolved. However, "health" is not restricted to the physical realm and the psychological impact often outlasts the physical impact. Research based on the entrapment of the Chilean miners in the fall of 2010 and research conducted by NASA for their astronauts (who experience similar conditions), illustrate the impact of mental trauma on miners working in unsafe environments (Sowards, 2011).

  • Mental Trauma Affecting Daily Function
  • Severe injuries
  • Occurrence of Death

Severity of the mining standards will be implemented based on fatality/injury trend data (shown above).

Statistics of mining operations will be monitored through random inspections by selected representatives of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. This will negate the falsification of information in reports by mines. Companies will be cited for repeated violations of the mining standard.

Voice for the Miners

The final system that will be implemented is a system by which miners can file complaints about mining operations within their company. This system will be set up so that opinions of the laborers are submitted anonymously and without consequence. The company's administration will be aware that this reporting process is occurring but will not be permitted to interfere. By allowing employees lower on the ladder to submit reports, a more accurate account of the company will be acquired.

The system will be set up as an online form or as a mail form sent to the Social and Economic Council of the United Nations. This is in junction with the knowledge that many mines are in remote locations or have no access to the internet. A second alternative for the miners is to report unsafe working conditions directly to the representatives of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations during the arbitrary annual inspections.

One concern with the system, however, is the possibility that miners may falsify information. Immediate action is not mandatory when the United Nations council receives a complaint, as further inspection of the complaint will be necessary.

Hurst, C. (2010, November 15). The Rare Earth Dilemma: China’s Rare Earth Environmental and Safety Nightmare. The Metal's Edge. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from

MSHA - MSHA Information - "MSHA by the Numbers". (n.d.). Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) - Home Page. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from

Sowards, D. (2011, December 13). Chilean Mine Collapse. Healthy Lifestyle 411. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from

Special Assessments. (n.d.). MSHA. Retrieved November 20, 2012, from