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Mining is big business, but mines can pose numerous hazards. Because of this, both national and international laws are in place to protect miners and the environment while still allowing the products of mining to play a role in our everyday lives.

Mining Operations

Mining is an important business locally, nationally, and globally. Mining operations all over the world create jobs and provide us with the minerals that are vital to our everyday lives.

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There are minerals in just about everything you come across each day – things like the components of your cell phone and computer, the gas that powers your car, and even fertilizers on agricultural crops.But mines are both dangerous places to work and have serious implications for the environment. Because of this, there are a number of international, national, and even state regulations in place to make mines safe for workers as well as reduce the harmful effects mining can have on the environment.

Safety & Health in Mines Convention

Being a miner is dangerous work.

There are safety issues concerning exposure to poisonous gases and dust, mine cave-ins, equipment problems, explosions, hearing loss from loud machinery, and heat stroke, just to name a few.Because of this, the International Labour Organization (ILO), which is an agency under the UN concerned with international labor issues that promotes the rights of workers, determined a convention was needed to protect the health and safety of mine workers. The convention that was eventually adopted for this purpose was the Safety and Health in Mines Convention of 1995.You may be thinking that 1995 is fairly recent for such regulations to be outlined for miners. Unfortunately, there were previous conventions that did address miner health and safety issues but did not outline enough laws that specifically dealt with these topics. And that’s where the 1995 convention comes in – it directly tackled the issues that miners face, providing much more legal protection for their health and safety.As of 2014, 29 different countries have ratified this convention, which means that they agree to follow the rules and regulations it outlines.

The U.S. is one of these countries, and we signed the convention in 2001, making us the 16th country to do so. However, there was considerable overlap with the many federal laws that the U.

S. already implements for mine safety. In fact, there was so much overlap that the convention did not really contribute any notable changes to our mining practices. Instead, it served as a political strategy, allowing us to put pressure on other nations by holding them accountable for their own mine workers’ health and safety.


S. Laws – Health and Safety

In the U.S., mine safety is regulated by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, which is an agency of the U.S.

Department of Labor. This agency is responsible for enforcing the regulations of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. Often just called the Mine Act, this law sets safety and health standards for miners and requires annual inspections of all U.

S. mines by MSHA. It’s an amended version of the Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969, usually just called the Coal Act, which was the most comprehensive and strict federal legislation for mining at that time.

The Mine Act made some significant improvements to the Coal Act. Not only did it consolidate federal regulations for the health and safety of all mining operations (coal and non-coal), but it also provided greater protection for miners, as well as expanded their rights.In 2006 came even stronger federal legislation, in the form of the MINER Act, or the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act. Previously, an emergency response plan was developed after an accident occurred, which wasted both time and resources. One major change seen in the MINER Act was the requirement that mine-specific emergency response plans be developed ahead of time and are continuously updated as appropriate.

The MINER Act also required emergency responders to be better trained and be more readily available to respond to mine accidents.


Laws – Reclamation

Miner health and safety is an important issue, but when we talk about mining, there’s no way to ignore the multiple environmental issues that come up as well. Mines are physically destructive to the local landscape, biodiversity, and vegetation, and they can be significant sources of air, water, and ground pollution.One way to mitigate these issues is through reclamation, or restoring an area that has been disturbed by surface or underground mining. The word means just what it sounds like – reclaiming the land for future use. There are a number of ways to reclaim a mine site, but no matter how you do it, if it’s a surface mine, you’re bound by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.

This federal law regulates environmental effects from coal mining by setting guidelines for coal mines. It also established a trust fund to provide financial support for reclamation activities.This was an important piece of legislation because prior to 1977, there were no federal laws regarding environmental issues for surface mining, and over a million coal mine sites in the U.

S. had simply been abandoned. Some states had voluntary reclamation programs, but there were no federal regulations specifically dealing with this issue. Since that time, many states have developed their own laws regarding mine reclamation for both coal and non-coal surface mines, and mining operations must now specifically outline their reclamation plan when they apply for mining permits (before they even start digging!).In addition to these mine-specific laws, there are numerous other federal environmental laws that impact mining operations and their environmental effects. For example, the Safe Drinking Water Act sets drinking water quality standards, and the Clean Air Act sets standards for air quality. Since mines are sources of both air and water pollution, these laws help reduce the negative effects from mines on our air and water quality in the U.


Lesson Summary

Though we use minerals all the time in our everyday lives, we don’t often stop to think about the workers who supplied us with those minerals or the environmental effects from the mine itself. But mining is both dangerous work and hard on the environment, and both international and federal legislation has come a long way to increase the protection and rights of workers as well as minimize environmental impacts of mines.

In 1995, the International Labour Organization of the UN adopted the Safety and Health in Mines Convention, an international convention to protect the health and safety of mine workers. As of 2014, 29 nations have ratified the convention (including the U.S.), agreeing to be held to its regulations.

The U.S. was a little ahead of this international legislation, since in 1977, The Coal Act of 1969 was amended to become The Mine Act, which set stricter safety and health standards for U.S. miners. This was amended even further in 2006 to become the MINER Act, appropriately named because this Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act outlined new provisions for emergency response and miner safety during mine accidents.

1977 was also good year for environmental mining legislation in the U.S. While other federal environmental legislation exists that affects mining operations, this is when we saw the implementation of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. This landmark law not only regulates environmental effects from coal mining, but also set up a trust fund specifically for financing reclamation activities.

Learning Outcomes

After reviewing this lesson, display your ability to:

  • Interpret the provisions of the Safety and Health in Mines Convention and identify the number of countries that have ratified it
  • Determine how the Mine Act improved on the Coal Act of 1969 and remember the further protections that were added by the MINER Act
  • Discuss federal legislation in the United States, including the provisions and importance of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977

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