October 20, 2010 Liz Borkowski, MPH 3Comment

After last week’s triumphant rescue of 33 miners from Chile’s San José mine, attention has turned to mine safety in Chile and worldwide.

The Associated Press reports that President Sebastian Piñera fired the top regulators from Chile’s mine safety agency and promised to triple its budget. In the weeks following the San José collapse, at least 18 small mines were shut down for safety violations. Piñera has promised that in the coming days he’ll unveil a proposal for more effectively protecting Chilean workers, and a commission is investigating the San José disaster and will recommend changes on mine safety. According to the BBC, Piñera has also committed to Chile’s signing an International Labour Organisation convention on mine health and safety.

The BBC also highlights the dangers of mining around the world, and a mine disaster in China’s Henan province provides a tragic contrast to the Chilean story: 37 workers have been confirmed dead after an explosion, in a mine that reportedly lacked clear safety zones and rescue equipment.

Meanwhile, in the US, the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch disaster, which killed 29 miners, had already focused regulators’ attention on mine safety. The Washington Post (in an article featuring a quote from Celeste) follows up on the administration’s push to address a backlog of contested citations – but the list of unresolved appeals has been swelling as the mine safety agency issues more citations and more companies fight them.

In other news:

Seattle Times: Washington state’s Department of Labor & Industries found 39 willful violations at the Tesoro refinery where seven workers were killed in an explosion in April, and fined the company $2.38 million.

The Guardian: BP plans to shut down the external safety ombudsman it established after the 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery, which killed 15 workers.

The Ecologist: Impoverished Roma people in France have turned to scavenging e-waste, although they lack the skills and equipment to safely extract metals from electronics.

Medline Plus: University of British Columbia researchers analyzed US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data and found that workers faced with persistent, loud industrial noises are at higher risk for heart disease. Their report appears in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Associated Press: More than 30 cases of MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) have been diagnosed in the island community of Vinalhaven, Maine over the past two summers. The working theory is that working in the lobster industry causes lots of small hand traumas, making it easier for bacteria to gain a foothold.

3 thoughts on “Occupational Health News Roundup

  1. While mining presents an at risk work environment modern mining techniques and work practices provide a safe work environment. Improving the safety performance at mining operations relies on a cooperative work environment where all employees work together to improve. The current federal inspections offer little help in advancing the safety performance and focus on finding minor issues that citations may be filed upon.

    Fatalities per
    100,000 employees

    53 147.2
    104 90.4
    Timber cutter
    66 84.6
    Structural metal workers
    36 61.0
    Waste collectors
    37 40.7
    Farmers and ranchers
    292 37.2
    Power-line workers
    38 34.9
    156 34.5
    81 33.5
    Truck drivers
    957 27.5
    All occupations 5,840 4.0

  2. We need to stop fishing, flying, cutting trees, building steel buildings, collecting waste, farming and using electricity before mining.

    Maybe the current regs and government strategy has nothing to do with preventing workplace deaths. And are all political

  3. While the current mine-safety regulatory system isn’t as effective as we’d like it to be, it deserves a lot of the credit for bringing annual US coal mining deaths down from 332 per 100,000 in 1900 to 22 per 100,000 in 2008.

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