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September 15, 2018

Mining deaths


September 15, 2018

The job of a coal miner is a dangerous one even in the best of conditions. Working hundreds of feet underground in enclosed, unstable mines will always be risky, to say nothing of the accumulated health hazards of breathing in dust and chemical particles. It is the job of the government to minimise these risks through a strong regulatory system that prioritises regular checks and enforces strict rules on safety conditions. Time and again, however, the state has come up short. The latest coal-mining disaster took place in the Akhorwal area of Darra Adamkhel in Fata as nine miners were killed by an accumulation of gas deep in the mine. The government usually writes off such incidents as unavoidable tragedies but the sheer number of deaths in coal mines shows that safety regulations are not being followed and the government is not taking action against those responsible. As recently as May, over 20 miners were killed in separate accidents in Marwar and Surran. In 2016, a cave-in at a mine in the Orakzai Agency killed seven people while nearly 50 died in an explosion at a mine in Balochistan in 2011. Clearly there is a problem here and it is one that the government has not addressed.

There are certainly laws in place to reduce the risk of accidents. The Mines Act of 1923 and the Coal Mines Ordinance of 1960 both lay out safety procedures and call for inspections. Yet these laws are ignored both by ravenous mine owners who maximise their profits on the backs of the working poor and a state that has never attached any importance to workers’ rights. As in almost every other private industry, labour unions in the mining sector have been deliberately weakened over the years. Most miners, especially in Sindh and Balochistan, are migrant workers from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who earn low wages and receive few benefits. Just making ends meet is difficult enough making it even more difficult for them to demand greater workplace safety. The only way to reduce the incidence of mining accidents is by empowering miners and charging mine owners with criminal negligence every time there is an accident. It should not take massive loss of precious life for us to wake up to the need for better safety procedures. At the very least, the government should now take swift and decisive action.

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