Mining Laws, Regulations, and Treaties: Safety and Reclamation

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  • 0:01 Mining Operations
  • 0:38 Safety & Health in…
  • 2:29 U.S. Laws - Health and Safety
  • 3:58 U.S. Laws - Reclamation
  • 6:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

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. 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.

U.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.

U.S. 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.

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