Many mines and oil installations have been modernised and have become safe workplaces, where machines now perform the most hazardous tasks. In many countries, however, mines remain the deadliest type of workplace, where collapses, landslides, drowning, and pulmonary illnesses claim thousands of miners’ lives every year. In many cases, informal/small-scale mines represent the most dangerous form of mining because protection and safety equipment are usually non-existent. Trade unions are seldom represented at small-scale and informal mines. Dialogue with workers associations here is often non-existent, which even further increases the vulnerability of the miners and their lack of influence over their working conditions.

The extractive industries are overwhelmingly male-dominated workplaces. Women who work in mining and extraction can be particularly vulnerable, especially for sexual abuse.

Miners in front of the entrance to a cassiterite mine in Congo Kinshasa. There is a severe risk of collapse at these types of mine, which typically have narrow and deep shafts. Photo: Jeppe Schilder.

Some examples

  • In January 2019, a tailings dam collapsed at an iron ore mine in Brumadinho in south east Brazil causing the deaths of more than 250 people. A vast river of mud containing toxic mining waste flooded the area and drowned people, buildings, roads and bridges. It was the deadliest mining accident in Brazil’s history. The Brazilian company Vale, which operates the mine, is the world’s largest producer of iron ore. Internal documents show that Vale knew that the dam was flawed. In 2015, one of the company’s tailings dams at another mine in the same state collapsed resulting in the deaths of 19 people.
  • In February 2019, a landslide hit an illegal gold mine on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. Wooden structures in the mine collapsed due to loose earth and the large number of mine shafts, which resulted in many people being buried in debris. At least eight people died, and many other miners were reported missing. The area is inaccessible and located in steep terrain, which complicated rescue efforts. Unofficial, unlicensed mines are common in Indonesia, and safety standards are often poor.
  • In March 2019, a leaking oil pipeline caused a major explosion in the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria. More than 50 people went missing after the explosion and the accident caused widespread oil spills throughout the delta. The Niger Delta is heavily polluted by repeated oil spills. According to Nigerian oil companies, pipelines are destroyed, often with the aim of stealing oil or for reasons of sabotage. Fatal accidents caused by leaking oil pipelines are common in Nigeria, which is Africa’s largest oil producer. According to Amnesty, the large international oil companies fail to take sufficient steps to prevent oil spills or sabotage, and they react too slowly when pipelines are leaking. 
  • Frequent fatalities in the hunt for jade in Myanmar

    In the state of Kachin in northern Myanmar, the extraction of jade is being conducted at breakneck speed. In the past two decades, jade mining activities have transformed forests and mountains into enormous craters. Thousands of people have lost their livelihoods and land due to jade mining and hundreds of people die every year in landslides caused by mining activity. Local people are also affected by fighting between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army. Since 2011, more than 100,000 people have been forced to flee due to the conflict. Jade mining, considered to be highly corrupt, is believed to have strong linkages to the conflict with both warring parties receiving funding from it.

    Thousands of men and boys search for the gemstone jade by sifting through earth from mines that is dumped by trucks. Many people die in falls, are runover by trucks or die in landslides, particularly during the monsoon period when the ground becomes looser. In 2015, 114 jade hunters died in a landslide at a dumping area.

    “Our work’s dangerous. I’ve seen rocks fall on the heads of many miners. Some die, because they pass out when rocks hit them, and then they’re covered in more rocks as people continue to dig around them. There’s often an aggressive atmosphere when everyone scrabbles through fresh piles of slag that are dumped,” a worker tells Aljazeera News.

    Read more in Swedwatch’s report: Overlooked and undermined.