Chile mine rescue shows how far mine safety has come
The Chile mine rescue effort is believed to be the deepest ever and the survivors have been underground longer than anyone who has made it out alive.
San Jose mine, Chile; and Mexico City
To cheers, chants and tears of joy, Florencio Avalos became the first of 33 trapped Chilean miners to escape his underground prison after a record time underground, as rescuers hauled him to the surface at 12:12 a.m. local time in a metal cage less than 22 inches across. By midday, authorities hope to have brought all of the miners out, ending what was supposed to be just a 10-hour shift digging for copper and gold.Skip to next paragraph
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It is the moment the world has awaited for more than two months, as the daily survival of 33 miners trapped underground – how they brush their teeth, what they eat, how they stay sane – has made almost non-stop, international news. And Mariela Gomez, aunt of Carlos Barrios, who was slated to come out 13th, couldn't help but become emotional.
"I'm crying all the same," Gomez said. After waiting 69 days – the first 17 of them "blind, anxious, I can't even put words to it" – she was laughing with tears on her cheeks. "I haven't been nervous in recent weeks but now, I am, a little," she said.
Even with the excitement of the first rescues fresh in the air, some family members were looking toward the future.
"Hopefully no one ever again has to do anything like this," said Alonso Contreras, a cousin of Barrios. "Never again."
That's the sentiment of mine safety experts worldwide who are hoping that the saga will become a lesson for the mining industry, in Chile, the region, and the rest of the world.
This rescue effort is believed to be the deepest ever and the survivors have been underground longer than anyone who has made it out alive. It's also one of the most advanced of its kind, and it could help other countries and firms increase their standards moving forward, but first an analysis of what exactly went wrong will need to be undertaken, says Keith Slack, Senior Policy Advisor and Campaign Manager for Extractive Industries at Oxfam America.
“The situation illustrates the need for stronger regulations and enforcement of existing regulations in the mining sector across Latin America” and the globe, says Mr. Slack.
Dramatic safety improvements
Many mining experts point out that, while more hazardous than most jobs, mining safety has increased considerably over the decades. Today, they say, workers are more likely to be hit by a car on the way to work than killed while descending deep into the earth to extract iron ore, coal, and precious metals.
The mindset in the past was that “you might get killed,” says Michael Nelson, an associate professor and chair of mining and engineering at the University of Utah. “Fifty years ago, a guy died, and everyone said, 'That´s too bad.' And the company would send a check to the widow.”
But in the past ten years the mentality has shifted so much that no accident is acceptable, he says, reflecting changes in societal expectations, worker rights, and the very high costs of fatalities today, including settlements and wrongful death lawsuits.