With Thanksgiving upon us, I thought we could step back for a moment.
Let’s press “pause on the macro picture, take a break from pricing, demand, supply, sourcing, etc. and take stock of the men and women working every day to make the physical act of metal mining possible.
The past few days, the media has been abuzz with the tragic story of 29 miners perishing in Greymouth, New Zealand. Pike River Coal, a smallish operation in the scheme of things that produces hard coking coal, employed the miners who succumbed to a series of methane explosions.
Perhaps this news seems so much more dispiriting than usual, beyond the circumstances underlying any tragedy such as this one, is because it happened on the heels of the dramatic rescue of 33 Chilean gold-and-copper miners just a few weeks ago a remarkable story of human spirit, perseverance and engineering.
The group of Pike River miners was composed of 24 New Zealanders, two Australians, two Britons and a South African. This statistic highlights the global nature of mining, and how interconnected the worldwide industry has become. Mainly, it stresses how important it is for world safety standards to reach those of the US.
Coal mining, statistically more dangerous than other mining due in large part to sheer volume, understandably gets more press. (Historically, China is the world leader in mining accidents.) But metal mining accidents, especially in the US, are less common.
Twenty-nine miners died this past April in Montcoal, West Virginia, under almost identical circumstances to the New Zealand accident. The Upper Branch Mine disaster represented the worst in the US since 1970. These incidents, however, are increasingly few and far between.
According to the US Mine Rescue Association, 16 coal mine accidents have occurred between 1976 and today, compared to only one metal and nonmetal mining accident in the same time period. MSHA reports a record-low 16 deaths in metal mines for 2009. (In overall mining, fatalities have decreased 54 percent since 2006, to 34, the fewest in history.)
It is in everyone’s best interests to continue increasing safety standards not only in US mining, but in other parts of the world as well. In these volatile times, with emerging economies driving demand for all types of metals, it’s more important than ever.