A CENTURY OF MINE SAFETY
Safety in Indian mines has traveled a long way since the beginning of the century when the first Mines Act was enacted on 7th January 1901. Completely manual, labour intensive mines of yesteryears have given way to wholly mechanized giants producing more than a million tones of ore annually.
Mining, being a continuous struggle against the unpredictable forces of nature, is considered one of the most hazardous operations. During the last century Indian mining has undergone many turbulent years. The history of Indian mining has been marred with a large number of accidents. With the advent of new technologies and techniques, the power to combat hazards in mining has greatly improved. Sustained efforts to improve safety in mines by Directorate General of Mine Safety, DGHS, have considerably brought down the death rate.
Technological upgradations, scientific studies, accident experience have brought in a total transformation in the mining legislation. The present Mines Act, which became applicable in 1952, is the product of these changes. DGMS as the law-enforcing agency since inception of the Mining Act has been instrumental in bringing about all the legislative changes. Grouped into 6 zones, the DGHS, with about 1100 staff members looks after the safety and health of lakhs of workers engaged in mining activities in 592 coal mines, 6,000 non-coal mines and 32 oil mines.
With the legislative and cultural changes in the mining industry, the accident scenario in mines has also shown changing characteristics. In coal mines fatal and serious injuries have come down over the years. During post-independence and pre-nationalization era, the reduction was drastic. In non-coal sector also the accidents show a steady decline.
During the hundred years of state intervention in respect of safety and health of workers employed in mines there has been dramatic reduction of fatal accidents and serious injuries as well as falality and serious injury rates. The falality rate per thousand persons employed in coal mines fell from a high of 0.93 (ten yearly average for the period 1901-2000). The same rate for non-coal mines fell from 0.67 to 0.35.
A tripartite mechanism consisting of the representatives of employees and trade unions besides the Central Government professional bodies and the State Governments periodically reviews the statue of safety in mining industry. From the Government side the Ministry of Labour, the Directorate General of Mines Safety, Dhanbad (DGMS) and other concerned Ministries participate. During its last review meeting, the 9th in the series, the tripartite forum among other measures recommended better communication between Director General, Mines Safety and Mine managements at site.
The DGMS is a unique institution of the country, which has the glorious distinction of being associated with the mining industry practically from its inception. It has witnessed the days when the industry was in its formative years worked largely by small unorganised industries to the era when vast public sector institutions have taken command. DGMS has played the pivotal role in standardising various safety practices all around the country with major scientific, research and educational initiatives. However, in an ever-changing situation one cannot possibly sit on their laurels. DGMS will have to continue more effectively its vigil over the mining industry in the form of enforcement, promotional and advisory activities so that safety in mines gets its due priority.