Is mining dangerous

Mining: underground

Ten weeks after 33 workers were buried in the Chilean mine “San José”, they were finally saved. Was the accident an isolated incident? Why is mining so dangerous and could something like this also happen here in Germany?

The miners and their families can hardly believe their luck. All 33 men were rescued from the buried “San José” mine in the Chilean Atacama Desert. On August 5th, a landslide blocked access to the mine. For 17 days, nobody knew how the workers were doing and whether they were still alive. Then examination probes finally fetched the long-awaited sign of life from the depths with a note.

For 69 days, the miners, as the workers in a mine call themselves, were trapped more than 600 meters deep in the gold and copper mine. With the help of a capsule, which was lowered through a 53 centimeter wide shaft to the whereabouts of the miners, they could finally be freed that week. Your salvation borders on a miracle. Never before have miners survived in a mine for so long after an accident.

Mining in Germany

Mining is also practiced in Germany. This serves to fetch valuable raw materials from the depths. In an international comparison, Germany has only small deposits of natural resources and therefore imports a lot of raw materials from abroad. But coal, precious metals, ores, salts and other rocks also occur in our earth's crust. The mining of hard coal in particular once led to the wealth of the Ruhr area in western Germany, which is why it is still called the “coal pot” today.

A distinction is made between the extraction of raw materials in open-cast mining, which involves digging at the surface of the earth, and extraction in a mine "underground" at deposits deep underground. If a mine is built, a shaft is first drilled vertically into the ground up to the desired mineral resource. During later work, it serves as a shaft for the elevator that brings the miners down, and of course for extraction, i.e. transporting the raw material to the light of day. In the depths, tunnels are dug and secured so that the miners can move around in them with their machines and mine the raw material. Mineral resources in the mountainous region can also be reached with tunnels drilled obliquely into the earth, from which the material can be removed more easily.

The first mines in flat terrain such as the “San José” mine in Chile existed in Europe as early as the 19th century. Technical progress made it possible to pump large quantities and at the same time remove the constantly occurring groundwater. Even if no precious metal was mined in Europe, the mines became real gold mines for their operators during this time.

How dangerous is the work in depth?

For the miners, however, the work was very dangerous. Dusty air, high temperatures, narrow corridors and the dim light underground are detrimental to human health. Workers were often killed as a result of the unexpected consequences of explosions, landslides or water ingress. In the past few decades, miners' associations in Germany have therefore fought to ensure that the safety of men at work underground is the top priority. For example, German mining law states that a mine must have at least two shafts so that workers can still get to the top should a shaft collapse. Mine accidents like those in Chile are therefore relatively unlikely in our country.

In the countries of South America and also in China or Russia, such safety standards are often ignored. There are still many people there who are buried while working in the mine. The operators of the mine in Chile also failed to comply with the law and put their workers in unnecessary danger.

It is all the more astonishing that all 33 buddies survived the accident. The “miracle of Chile”, as many call it, is now also of interest to the cinema industry in Hollywood. Book authors, directors and film producers want to bring the story of the miners, who have shown so much perseverance and with whom people around the globe worried, to the screen.