Ensuring occupational health and safety of mine workers
Kindly note that coal and mineral production were exempted from the lockdown that was imposed since March 25th, 2020. Clause 5 of the Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) dated 24th March, 2020 on the measures to be taken by various ministries and departments of the Central Government, state governments and Union Territories (UTs) for containment of the COVID-19 epidemic in the country mentioned that industrial establishments will remain closed with the exceptions of: a. manufacturing units of essential commodities; and b. production units, which require continuous process, after obtaining required permission from the state government. However, an addendum to the Guidelines was issued on 25th March, 2020 that stated that the mining sector, among other things, will be exempted from the lockdown.
Although the Government has not formulated any specific scheme to ensure the safety of workers in mines and hazardous factories, generally the safety, health and welfare of the mine workers and factories workers, including hazardous factories are governed in terms of provisions contained in the Mines Act, 1952 and the Factories Act, 1948 and the rules and regulations made under them. Despite the provisions of the Mines Act, 1952 and rules and regulations made later for the safety of persons employed in the mines, both fatal and serious accidents continue to take place in both coal and non-coal mines.
Replying to Unstarred Question No. 1156 (to be answered on 19th September, 2020 in the Lok Sabha), the Minister of State for Labour and Employment Shri Santosh Kumar Gangwar revealed that between 2015 and 2020 (till 31st August), roughly 304 fatal accidents and 1,333 serious accidents had happened in coal mines. His reply to the question asked in the Parliament also indicated that between 2015 and 2020 (till 31st August), around 242 fatal accidents and 187 serious accidents had occurred in non-coal mines. Please consult chart-1 for details.
Source: Reply to Unstarred Question No. 1156 to be answered on 19th September, 2020 in the Lok Sabha, Ministry of Labour and Employment, please click here to access
One also gets state-wise data on the number of fatal accidents and deaths due to fatal accidents besides number of serious accidents and serious injuries owing to such accidents. The state-wise figures are available for both coal mines and non-coal mines i.e. metal and oil mines.
The latest available data for coal mines show that deaths due to fatal accidents was the highest in Chhattisgarh (7), followed by Odisha and Telangana (5 each) and Jharkhand (3) during 2020 (till 31st August). Serious injuries due to accidents in coal mines was the highest in Telangana (24), followed by Jharkhand (9) and West Bengal (6) during 2020 (till 31st August). Since the data is official, it is highly possible that accidents, deaths and injuries in illegal coal mines have not been taken into account.
The data for non-coal mines (i.e. metal and oil) indicate that deaths due to fatal accidents was the highest in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh (5 each), followed by Andhra Pradesh (3) and Assam, Kerala, Maharashtra and Odisha (2 each) during 2020 (till 31st August). Serious injuries due to accidents in non-coal mines was the highest in Rajasthan (4), followed by Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh (2 each) during 2020 (till 31st August). Since the data is official, it is highly possible that accidents, deaths and injuries in illegal non-coal mines have not been counted.
Occupational health and safety of mine workers
Replying to Unstarred Question No. 620 (to be answered on 16th September, 2020 in the Lok Sabha), the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Coal and Mines Shri Phalhad Joshi said that coal mines are riskier than the non-coal mines (in terms of number of accidents) for the following reasons:
1. Underground coal mining is more hazardous and geo-mining conditions in the underground mine is totally different in comparison to non-coal mines and also to opencast mining. Non-coal mines are mostly opencast.
2. Volume of production of coal and removal of over burden is much more and deployment of machinery in underground coal mines are also more in comparison to non-coal mines.
3. Risk/ hazard of exposure of employees is more in coal underground mines in comparison to non-coal mines.
The following steps are taken to ensure safety with latest technology to avoid accidents in coal mines:
a. Preparation and implementation of risk assessment based Safety Management Plans (SMPs).
b. Preparation and implementation of Principal Hazards Management Plans (PHMPs) along with Trigger Action Response Plan (TARP).
c. Formulation and compliance of Site-specific Risk Assessment based Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
d. Conducting safety audit of mines.
e. Online Centralized Safety Monitoring System has been developed for monitoring different safety parameters.
Readers should note that the Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS) administers the provisions of the Mines Act, 1952 for ensuring the occupational safety, health and welfare of the workers employed in the mines.
Among other things, the DGMS takes the following steps to ensure safety of mine workers and prevent accidents:
(i) Regular inspections are done and based on the observations during the inspections, actions such as pointing out contraventions, withdrawal of permission, issue of improvement notice, prohibition of employment and prosecution in the court of law are taken to ensure compliance.
(ii) Accidents are inquired into and based on the findings of accidents, actions such as warning to delinquent, suspension of certificate, modification in the method of working, action by management like stoppage of increment, dismissal from service, recorded warning, withholding promotion and prosecution in the court of law, are taken.
(iii) Promotional measures are also taken viz. holding of National Conference on Safety in Mines, National Safety Awards (Mines), Observance of Safety Week, safety campaigns, organization of workshops, safety committee meetings etc.
(iv) Time to time, DGMS Circulars are issued as guidelines for safe operations in identified thrust areas.
(v) Introduction of Risk Assessment Techniques and preparation of safety management plan aimed at elimination of risks and to ensure safety of workmen.
(vi) Introduction of standard operating procedures to avoid unsafe practices in mines.
(vii) Safety training programmes are organized among Managers and Supervisors for improving safety standards in mines.
Although the notice put up by the Ministry of Mines dated 24th August, 2020 has proposed mining reforms for accelerating growth and generating employment, the occupational safety and health related issues confronting the mine workers have not been discussed there.
It should be noted that The Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Conditions Code simplifies, rationalises and amalgamates the provisions in 13 central labour laws (including The Mines Act, 1952) and covers laws pertaining to safety, health, and working conditions of workers employed across factories, mines, docks; employed as contractual workers, or are migrant workers. Among other things, the appointment of safety officers has been limited to only mines employing 100 or more workers under The Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Conditions Code. It means that the employees in small mines (including the informal ones without any documentary evidence of formal contracts) have been left out of the coverage of the code.
The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code 2020, please click here to access
Briefing Note for Parliamentarians on Labour Law Reforms prepared by Working Peoples' Charter dated 21st September, 2020, please click here to access
Press release by Mineral Inheritors Rights Association (MIRA) dated 27th August, 2020, please click here to access
Notice by the Ministry of Mines dated 24th August, 2020, please click here to access
Reply to Unstarred Question No. 1156 to be answered on 19th September, 2020 in the Lok Sabha, Ministry of Labour and Employment, please click here to access
Reply to Unstarred Question No. 620 to be answered on 16th September, 2020 in the Lok Sabha, Ministry of Coal, please click here to access
Reply to Unstarred Question No. 3455 to be answered on 16th March, 2020 in the Lok Sabha, Ministry of Labour and Employment, please click here to access
Addendum to Guidelines by the Ministry of Home Affairs Guidelines dated 25th March 2020, please click here to access
Guidelines by the Ministry of Home Affairs dated 24th March, 2020, please click here to access
Order of the Ministry of Home Affairs dated 24th March, 2020, please click here to access
Why are the MPs criticising the new Labour Codes? Are labourers going to lose out? -Ridhi Shetty, TheLeaflet.in, 29 September, 2020, please click here to access
Occupational Safety Continues to be Ignored as a Right -KR Shyam Sundar, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 55, Issue No. 39, 26 September, 2020, please click here to access
During a Lockdown, Why Is the Mining Industry Considered 'Essential'? -Manju Menon and Kanchi Kohli, TheWire.in, 2 April, 2020, please click here to read more
Image Courtesy: Inclusive Media for Change/ Shambhu Ghatak
Tagged with: Coal Mines Coal Mining Health Hazards Labour Rights Labour Welfare Mine Accidents Mine Workers Mining Non-Coal Mines Occupational Safety The Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Conditions Code