Mining accounts for about one percent of the world’s workforce, some 30 million people, of whom about 10 million produce coal. It is estimated that a further six million people work in small-scale mines.
Mineworkers face a constantly changing combination of workplace circumstances. Some work in an atmosphere without natural light or ventilation, creating voids in the earth by removing material and trying to ensure that there will be no immediate reaction from the surrounding strata. Despite the efforts in many countries, the toll of death, injury and disease among the world’s mineworkers means that, in most countries, mining remains the most hazardous occupation when the number of people exposed to risk is taken into account. Although only accounting for one percent of the global workforce, it is responsible for about eight percent of fatal accidents at work. No reliable data exist on injuries, but they are significant, as is the number of workers affected by such disabling occupational diseases as pneumoconiosis, hearing loss and the effects of vibration.
In some countries, many more people are employed in small-scale, often informal, mining than in the formal mining sector. Many of these jobs are precarious and are far from conforming with international and national labour standards. Accident rates in small-scale mines are routinely six or seven times higher than in larger operations, even in industrialised countries. A special problem is the employment of children.
Because of the hazardous nature of mining, the ILO has always been deeply concerned with improving the work and life of those in the mining sector, from the adoption of the Hours of Work (Coal Mines) Convention (No. 31) in 1931 to the Safety and Health in Mines Convention (No.176), which was adopted in 1995. Codes of Practice have also been developed and adopted that provide guidance on how to conduct safe mining operations in both underground and surface mines. The ILO's null is an internationally recognized tool for recording systematically radiographic abnormalities in the chest provoked by the inhalation of dusts.