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Marble quarry accident highlights ongoing slaughter in Pakistan mines

26 February, 2020At least ten people were killed and 30 were trapped after a rock slide at a marble quarry in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on 22 February. The horrific accident highlights the ongoing slaughter in Pakistan’s mines, which kill 200 workers each year.

The accident came as IndustriALL’s mining affiliates reported that at least 40 people have been killed in mining accidents this year. Pakistani mining unions report that mining operations use obsolete methods, with poor equipment and negligible safety measures.

There is a very high risk of death and injury from explosions, cave-ins and equipment failure in mines and quarries, with most accidents occurring in coalmines. Incidents are not properly reported and there are no reliable statistics available, but research conducted by IndustriALL Global Union and its affiliates shows that an average of 200 miners die every year.

At least 40 workers have been killed so far this year. On 25 February, two mine workers were trapped in a coal mine in Dara Adamkhel. One freed himself while the other died. A coalminer was killed in Duki, Balochistan on 23 February, ten at the marble quarry the previous day, four in Duki on 12 February, one in Duki on 4 February, and two in Much coalfield on 3 February.

Mining practices are primitive, particularly in the informal sector in both private and state-owned small or medium coalmines. These mines operate on contractual and sub-contractual basis, with many small coalmines running illegally.

Unskilled and untrained miners, working without safety protocols, descend to depths of up to 2,500 metres. Accidents are common. Miners suffocate from carbon monoxide due to poor ventilation. Coalmines produce highly flammable methane gas, which leads to explosions.

Basic personal protective equipment is not made available. The rescue of victims is difficult in the absence of well-equipped emergency response teams. Accidents are not investigated, and workers or their families barely compensated. Coalminers are exposed to serious occupational diseases like asthma, bronchitis and lung cancer, gastro and hepatitis, and psychological disorders.

The inspection mechanism is poor. Pakistan has the most unregulated industry in the world, as mines are not under active government supervision. The laws are obsolete and do not conform to international practices. The Mines Act of 1923 is still in force, but the safety measures it calls for are not followed.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

“We have urgently called on the Pakistani government for several years now to address the carnage in the mining industry. We offer support to help make mining safer, but the government needs to ratify and implement ILO Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines, provide safety training, and institute a proper inspection mechanism.”

Pakistan has large coal reserves, and mostly employs manual and semi-mechanised mining methods. Coal is used in brick kilns, the cement industry and power generation. More than 100,000 workers are employed in 400 coalmines located in remote, isolated areas.