Losses from the early morning collapse of part of a coal mine in Russia, 45 miles southeast of the commercial hub of St. Petersburg, were reported at 55 fatalities and 39 rescuers missing.
The coal mine, Olimpiada, is operated by the Antorobeko coal company, and U.S. officials help raise the stakes with discussions about the safety of international mining operations in developing countries.
On the surface, the U.S. has actually reduced the number of mine deaths and injuries, but unions and anti-mining activists point to the rate of accidents. Between 2006 and 2014, about 2,000 people died annually in accidents related to mining, according to the International Labor Organization.
This leaves miners as the safest, but most vulnerable occupation globally. Mining is among the most dangerous work on the planet, with many people dying in the work. In 2012, seven workers died at a coal mine in Marree, India, a mining region linked to human trafficking. The fatalities raised concern about safety, which was a matter of concern when Russia’s current president, Vladimir Putin, was first elected in 2000. He had campaigned for greater control over the industry and spoke regularly about coal safety.
The U.S. mining industry has improved safety from its 1960s heyday, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. The agency cites the fall in injuries from 8,300 in 1990 to just 1,500 in 2012. The agency says it has identified better ways to reduce stress on miners and establish safety plans. U.S. mining accounts for about 5 percent of global production.
However, in the past two decades, the number of miners worldwide has grown along with production, resulting in miners being more at risk. In 2017, an estimated 9.1 million miners were employed, an increase of 19 percent from a decade earlier, according to a report by the International Labour Organization. In emerging markets, profits have driven expansion and coal mines have been allowed to grow.
“We see this is the main problem for the coal industry,” said Ivan Gurskis, a spokesman for the union of Romanian miners. “If the profits have increased, then companies cannot accept higher safety costs. Therefore accidents rise.”