Pakistan’s mines: a precarious workplace

Pakistan has a huge reserve of 186 billion tons of coal

Masood Ahmed August 25, 2022

It is a fact that there is a huge cache of different metals and minerals in Balochistan and K-P waiting to be mined and add to the national wealth. Pakistan is estimated to have reserves of hundreds of millions of tons of metals such as copper (6000 million tons) and gold (1675 million tons), to name a few. However, the large amount of these reserves is still untapped. Beside metals, Pakistan has a huge reserve of 186 billion tons of coal.

Currently, the coal mining is done mostly at a small scale by using primitive methods not in use in developed countries. According to ILO, the fatality rate in Pakistan’s coal mining sector in 1998 was 40 per million workers as compared to 9 per million in China. From 2010 to 2018 alone, 318 miners died in mining related accidents in different areas of Pakistan. The fatality rate reported by ILO in 1998 has not gone down since then, and by now it must be off the charts.

One can foresee a lot of mining activity in Pakistan in the times to come. The mining giants are always on the lookout for natural resources reserves since the demand is always there. The continuing increase in demand for natural resources will potentially drive mining activity in Pakistan. However, one can suspect that with increase in mining production the rate of mining accidents and occupational diseases will also increase if the hazards are not controlled appropriately.

Developed countries like the UK, the US and Canada have been relying heavily on mining industry to enhance manufacturing and construction activities which have resulted in the economic prosperity for these countries. They have also learned the hard way that without safe working conditions a mining operation cannot be sustainable. The loss of lives eventually drives people out of this business and makes it socially and morally unacceptable.

While the issue of death most certainly requires utmost attention, the occupational diseases caused by the mining operations deserve equal attention. The occupational diseases which often times are disabling and ultimately lead to death such as silicosis, lung fibrosis, lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other types of cancers are many folds higher than the number of fatalities recorded in different countries.

To protect miners and improve the productivity, the mining technology has improved a lot and the fatality rate, and the occupational disease prevalence has also been reduced in developed countries. This is due to the improved legislation and enforcement of mining related health and safety laws and regulations in the developed world as compared to what was in the post-70s era.

The number of fatalities in Pakistan’s mining sector is staggering, as mentioned above, mainly due to mine collapse and gas leak incidents. In Pakistan, a workers fatality affects his family not only emotionally but financially, as there is no system of compensation.

The legal requirements to run a mine in Pakistan, not to mention that the law is archaic, are not usually fulfilled by mine owners, and the health and safety is nowhere to be seen. Moreover, the mining techniques used in Pakistan seem to be 100 years old.

The Pakistani mining industry, and the workforce in general, should learn from other countries’ experiences rather than reinventing the wheel on health and safety. The government should improve the regulations around protecting miners’ health by making the mining licence conditioned upon fulfilling health and safety regulations.

The mining industry has played a pivotal role in the economies of developed countries and continues to do so only because the governments and the mining companies have been striving to make the operation sustainable. Without robust health and safety guidelines and procedures, the mining sector in industrialised countries may not have come this far. However, the struggle to further improve the workers’ health is still on. Pakistan must follow suit.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2022.

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