Mining Workers Health and Safety Conditions – A Case Study on Bharat Gold Mines Limited (BGML) Employees
In India, as per as International Labour Organisation report (1999), there are more than 10,000 mines (of which 10%–60% may be illegal),employing about 1 million people including women and children. The extent of illegal mining is often linked to difficulties in obtaining permits. In these mines,there are serious problems as regards health and safety, the environment,hygiene and working conditions.Like most economic activities, mining has positive and negative aspects. It is closely linked to economic development, particularly in the rural sector in many developing countries and helps to stem rural-urban migration,maintaining the link between people and the land. The social and economic complexity of mining and the fact there is nomodel on which to develop a sound theory or programme needs a research study. Hence, the study was conducted at Bharat Gold Mines Limited (BGML) at KGF. The present study tried to understand the health and safety conditions of the mining employees, In this paper researcher is going to present three case studies and discussing the intervention of social workers.
Key words: Health and safety, family background, gold mining, intervention of social workers.
Mining remains one of the most difficult, dirty and hazardous occupations- causing more fatalities than other occupations. However, several historical studies report improved health for mineworkers since the 15th century. There is no doubt that, internationally, conditions have improved from times of bonded or slave mine labour. Things have changed too from times when miners were working and living without hygiene or safety in all parts of the sector. This has had knock-on effects on miner health, in part through improved use of epidemiological information by workers to improve safety and reduce exposures to occupational. Today, mining labour and health conditions are changing once again, as the mining sector experiences the impacts of socalled”globalisation” with its effects on labour stability and employment, and knock-on effects on mental health of miners and ex-miners.
In terms of scientific evidence, despite studies showing long term historical improvements,particularly in the middle of the last century, the bulk of the literature focuses on the continued burden of largely preventable health impacts that mine workers sustain not just in their working life but beyond into their old age. Studies testify that mining continues to be a primarily male dominated profession, needing to employ principally able-bodied individuals to undertake arduous risky work. Health and safety risks differ according to where the mines are, what products are being mined; who is involved and what processes are used. In different countries women and children may be involved in mining and depending on what product is mined, and mining conditions, risks change.
Health and safety risks in Gold mining
It is not easy to separate out health and safety issues related to specific minerals, except incertain major cases. In many cases, the types of materials mined and their associated health effects are complex and interrelated. For example, studies focusing on the silicates attempt to distinguish fibrous silicates such as asbestos, asbestiformfibrous minerals such as wollastonite and fuller’s earth, and non-fibrous silicates such as talcand kaolin (Short and Petsonk 1993). However, mines may contain a mixture of minerals and the primary substance mined may not in some cases form the primary health hazard for mine workers in those mines.
Gold mining and the processes of extraction of the gold from ore have been in existence for centuries. Unlike the products that we have looked at so far, gold extraction is not the only stage of the mining process to create hazardous exposures for workers.Gold mining has also received attention in terms of the risks of overall mine environment conditions, particularly related to lung and body pain in gold miners. Gold miners do not escape the risks of silica dusts inmines and several studies deal with this. In one major U.S study, (Steenland and Brown1995) of 3330 gold miners who worked at least 1 year underground from 1940 to 1965(average 9 years) and were exposed to a median silica level of 0.05 mg/m3, 170 cases of silicosis were determined from either death certificates or two cross-sectional radiographic surveys. After adjustment for competing risks of death, the authors calculate that a 45- year exposure under the current U.S standards (OSHA) would lead to a lifetime risk of silicosis of 35% to 47%. Some older studies do not show this, but detailed studies from Australia, on a cohort of 2,397 goldminers, show a similar relationship of gold-mine exposure to silica and silicosis. One recent South Africa study of 2255 gold mine workers reports the complex interaction of long term exposure to silicon dust, silicosis and pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB). The researchers found that exposure to silica dust is a risk factor for the development of PTB in the absence of silicosis, even after exposure to silica dust ends. The risk of PTB increases with the presence of silicosis, and in miners without radiological silicosis, with quartiles of exposure to dust.
Gold mining to radiation risks and shows the complexity of the occupational risks faced by miners, both from the products they mine, the processes they use and the other products they encounter as they mine. Kusiak et al studied mortality in 54,128 men who worked in Ontario mines between 1955 and 1986. Most of these men worked in nickel, gold, or uranium mines; a few worked in silver, iron, lead/zinc, or other ore mines. The researchers excluded deaths that occurred after a man had started to mine uranium, and found “an excess of lung cancer among the 13,603 Ontario gold miners. The excess mortality from lung cancer in the gold miners was confined to men who began goldmining before 1946. In the gold mines each year of employment before the end of 1945 was associated with a 6.5% increase in mortality from lung cancer. The excess of lung cancer mortality in Ontario gold miners is associated with exposure to high dust concentrations before 1946, with exposure to arsenic before 1946, and with exposure to radon decay products” (Kusiak, Springer et al. 1991). In terms of this review, the most disturbing feature of this study is its evidence of the complex and long term impacts of multiple exposures of miners on their health, and the fact that the impacts of past exposures may be felt long into the future of a miner’s life.
Bharat Gold Mines Limited(BGML) and workers health and safety
The closure of the Bharat Gold Mines Limited (BGML) in April 2000. The once buzzing township , given the name of ‘Little England’ , largely because of the presence of many Anglo-Indians, turned completely lifeless. The Kolar Gold Fields (K.G.F)township, with its population of 1.2 lakh, which till then depended on BGML for survival, found it hard to adapt to the harsh new reality.The closure affected every aspect of life and the physical environment too. The local economy shrunk, and people started migrating to neighbouring cities in search of jobs. Former workers say they had no alternative means of earning a livelihood. But this was just the beginning. The deadly silicosis disease struck the town, making the people’s lives even more miserable. The gold mining process at KGF generated about 32 million tonnes of tailings called cyanide dumps. Years of inhaling the gold dust aggravated the silicosis ailment among the former workers and their families living close to the site. Since 2005, the disease, it is said, killed over 100 people in this town, the highest incidence reported in the state. With their own lives a shambles, workers hoped their children, armed with an education they themselves did not get, would build new lives. They now see that dream being shattered, under the threat of nuclear waste dumping.
In recent times, health of the miners became focus of attention after mining of gold started in India at Kolar Gold Fields in Karnataka. Occurrence of Silicosis was first reported in India by C Krishnaswami Rao in the year 1934 from Kolar Gold Fields. The historic study on Silicosis (1940 to 1946) by Dr. Anthony Caplan and others consisting of 7643 workers of Kolar Gold Fields detected 3472 workers suffering from Silicosis. The study remains one of the most pioneering work in the field of dust diseases and “Caplan Syndrome” was first described during this study. The study also formed basis for Mysore Silicosis Rules and other legislations relating to detection and compensation of occupational dust diseases in India.
The study was conducted in the Bharth Gold Mines Limited in the BGML quarters 2172 inmates have been accommodated. For the purpose of the study the researcher has interviewed 50 respondents who were willing to share their experiences. Among them the researcher has presented three case studies.
Objectives of the Study
Case study 1
Ponnuswamy (name changed) aged 68years stayed at Urigam mines, he was married at the age of 25 years with Saroja, ten years younger than him. The couple did not enjoy their life because they spent most of the time quarreling with each other. Misunderstandings, lack of communication, conflict were common in their marital life. The couple could not have any children as there was no relationship at all between the couple because of some personnel problems. Ponnuswamy had a petty business of his own after closure of mining, he is earning little bit income to lead his life and his wife was also employed in a garment industry. After closure of mine he upset and depressed. Became the ponnuswamy sick by health problems majorly he is suffering by lung problem. Societal blame, isolation, loss in business made him to get addicted to the consumption of alcohol. He began to consume alcohol throughout the day. He loses interest in his business and started of drinking. He left mining area to forget the incident, started his journey towards Bangalore to job. He is working as a painter and earning money and daily he is committed to alcoholism. Presently, he has not adjusted himself with the family and friends. He feels sad for not having any of the family members to look after him. Ponnuswamy is having hoped the company will reopen and the government will settle the problems.
Case study 2
Rajan (name changed) 60 year from Champion reef mining area. Rajan was leading happy life with wife and two children, one son who had finished Degree and his daughter studied till PUC, further she did not show interest in studying, hence she was married off. Rajan was working as a floorman in Champion reef mine. The income he was earning was not enough to meet the needs of the family; hence his wife also joined the house worker. He was running life happily. After closure of mine in 2001 he depressed lot, became unemployed. Unfortunately Rajan had asilicosis disease where he had an lungs injury and his right hand bone was fractured partially. Doctor suggested him to be on the rest for about life long. But Rajan never had shown interest in going for work even after disease, he became very lethargic, spent time in watching TV at home, by evening spending time with the peer group, coming home late. In spite of convincing him to go back to work he refused. This behavior was not tolerated by the family members and his son often quarreled with him and day by day the relationship was worsened with his wife and children. Immediately after the incident Rajan left home without informing anyone and went to Bangalore and started to work. Now, since nine months he had more health problem and spending his time in the agarbathi making and saving some amount of money. He also involves trade union activities to get benefits from BGML. He has no hope of reopening the mine and getting benefits.
Case study 3
Maran (name changed) aged 63yrs resident of Marikuppam mining quarters. He was the head of the family, his wife was a home maker. He had three children – one male and two female children. He was an underground mining worker; after closure of BGML he was involved into union movements. As a result, the family condition came to the poor condition. He never had the habit of saving the earnings. Maran had body pain and knee pain. Because of pain he consumed alcohol on a regular basis with his friends and never bothered about attending family matters. He was spending the profit lavishly going to neighboring city and squandering away with his friends. His behaviour had become headache to his family. Witnessing such an irresponsible behavior of his father, his son took over the family responsibilities, very importantly financial matters of the family. By this Maran’s presence was neglected and he was not given much importance by his family. No financial support was given to him. The family completely ignored him for his alcoholic behavior. With this background Timmanna started work as a security guard in Bangalore. After earning enough money from security job he put money to gambling. And also Maran participated in political parties in the time of elections to canvasing and getting money. Meanwhile he has involving movements regarding settlement of BGML benefits, presently Maran lose his hope regarding benefits and he depending on children.
Social Work Intervention
Social workers can be involved in the following activities.
The evidence of long-term impacts of mining on health and safety of workers is important in the context of sustainable development. These impacts imply that the mining sector’s activities currently undermine the human objectives of sustainable development,which are to protect the health and safety of current and future generations. This is despite theindustry’s role in economic development in the short term. Miners living around mines have fought hard for improvements to their health and safety conditions over many years. This has resulted in great improvements in large scale formal mining – where organised labour has worked with government and management to improve worker health and safety.
There is also a long way to go before the industry, the workers agree over the real health and safety impacts of the sector and the real responsibility of each of the actors in the sector. Mining companies have started more recently to put up health and safety programmes intoplace around mines. But it is the long term heath impacts related to the mine activities that till remain long after the company goes and there is little evidence that companies are keen to address these long-term responsibilities. This is despite the fact that health impacts directly related to mine products are more the responsibility of the industry than any other health and safety programmes.
Finally, in the future there is much more to be done to ensure that mining is a healthy as well as sustainable development practice. At the moment at least,there is little evidence that mining is a healthy practice in the long term and only limited evidence that miners and their families gain true health benefits from the sector.
Nagesha H V
Ph.D Student, Dept of Social Work, Bangalore University, Jnanabarathi Campus Bangalore-560056.
Professor, Dept of Social Work, Bangalore University, Jnanabarathi Campus Bangalore-560056.
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