Monday, April 5, 2010

Miners Died Today

We have the technology to make mining safe. In fact, we have the technology to make every industry safe: we can ensure there are no mining fatalities or occupational diseases; we can even make it safe for nurses to lift patients without throwing out their backs. And do we?

Many people, myself included, are quick to judge "third world" countries' health and safety track records. China and India, with two of the largest populations, are free-for-alls with regards to many things, including human rights and occupational health and safety. But while we're quick to judge, we must remember we're not perfect.

Case in point: while a large mining accident this past week in China has (surprisingly) recovered over 100 workers, I suspect there will be many deaths once everything is settled. However, today's mining accident in West Virginia reminds me that we (being the "developed" world) ignore these very technologies we've developed for safety.

What is the reason of this most recent mining accident? Who knows, and the mining company is rightfully focussed on life saving efforts of the survivors. However, we know that mining can be done safely, so there was an error somewhere - whether an engineering issue or cultural (from not accounting for geographic issues to not enforcing safety regulations).

By the way, in Ontario (my province of Canada), mining is significantly safer than working in a hospital. I suspect that statistic is the same throughout Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Surprised? Well, we don't "perceive" hospitals as dangerous, so we don't always adequately address the safety hazards (such as lifting patients, mixing cleaning chemicals, being attacked by dementia patients or even emotional family members can all cause significant injuries to workers).

Remember, everywhere in Canada, the U.S., Europe, and most other developed nations, you have the right to refuse unsafe work, the right to know about the safety hazards you're working with/around, and the right to training on these hazards. Don't be afraid to exercise your rights. If you're unsure, google your appropriate authority (such as provincial ministries in Canada, OSHA in the U.S., HSE in the U.K., etc.)

Please take a moment to remember those who died needlessly for their job.

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