The coal mining industry in the UK today is but a shadow of its former self having contracted in size to approximately one hundred small to medium sized mines employing no more than six thousand people. The majority of the coal mining specific, generally prescriptive health and safety legislation, was framed and passed into law over fifty years ago when the industry employed tens of thousands and the technology and working processes were different from those of today. Although it has been supplemented by more recent legislation, it is generally recognised as being in need of re-visiting.
The coal mining industry is also having to cope with an aging workforce and although the remaining workers in the industry are adequately qualified and experienced, the industry is losing far more managers, engineers, surveyors and supervisors due to retirement than it can replace and it is in those categories of employee than the bulk of the health and safety expertise resided. The Health and Safety Executive acknowledge this loss of health and safety knowledge and awareness at the leadership level in the industry and have linked most fatal and major injuries reported over the last couple of decades to breakdowns of and issues surrounding mines’ safety management systems. They also express concern about the reduction in scope of mines safety inspections with many concentrating on environmental risks and managing an aging infrastructure at the expense of not adequately addressing work processes related risk.
This situation, on-going, poses substantial problems around maintaining the required levels of health and safety in coal mines and is further exacerbated by the almost complete disappearance of coal mining specific training within the UK’s educational system – a provision which collapsed as a result of the radical reduction in the size of the industry. This has made recruiting suitably qualified employees at all levels extremely difficult and in turn led to increasing levels of recruitment of foreign, non-English speaking workers – a situation that has its own health and safety implications.
In contrast to coal production, the other forms of mining for metals and minerals and quarrying in the UK present a more dynamic picture when it comes to the workforce, recruitment and training. However, strangely enough and based proportionally on the number of workers they employ, these other forms of mining and quarrying produce a greater number of fatal and serious injuries than does the atrophying coal mining sector – 3000 reportable injuries, including 24 fatal injuries since the turn of the century.
In 2002 the mining and quarrying sector took top spot, displacing agriculture and construction, as the most dangerous industries to work in. This might lead to the conclusion that although the mismanagement of risk in the sector is far from systemic, and the rates of fatalities and serious injuries are very slowly reducing there are still far too many pockets of bad practice out there in industries that are by their inherent nature extremely hazardous.
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Working in mines and quarries is extremely dangerous however your employer should still be able to protect you. If your employer has negligently failed to do so, our expert personal injury solicitors could help you win compensation.
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