TOWARDS ACCIDENT FREE MINING
Minerals constitute the back- bone of economic growth of any nation and India has been eminently endowed with this gift of nature. Over the past 50 years, there has been a steady increase in mining activities. Today there are over 594 coal mines and more than 6,000 metalliferous mines and 41 oil projects, excluding the offshore installations. Though the exploitation of several minerals has been going on in the country from time immemorial, the first recorded history of mining in India dates back to 1774 when an English Company was granted permission by the East India Company for mining coal in Raniganj. Coal mining got a boost in 1855 when railway line was laid from Howrah to Raniganj. Gold mining in Kolar Gold Fields started in the year 1880. The first oil well was drilled in Digboi in the year 1866 just seven years after the first ever oil well was drilled anywhere in the world viz. in Pennsylvania State, USA in 1859. Mining activities in the country however remained primitive in nature and modest in scale until the last decade of 19th century.
Mine Safety Legislation
With the progress in exploitation of minerals, safety of persons employed became a matter of concern. The death rate for every 1000 persons in mines in 1894 was as high as 3.04. In 1895, the Government of India initiated steps to frame legislative measures for safety of workmen. In 1897, in the first major mining disaster 52 persons were killed in a shaft accident in the Kolar Goldfields followed by the Khost Coal Mine disaster in Baluchistan (now in Pakistan) killing 47 persons. The two accidents hastened the process of formulation of safety laws and the first Mines Act was enacted in 1901. With further experience, this Act was superseded by the Indian Mines Act, 1923, which was again replaced in 1952 by the present Mines Act. Subsequently major changes were incorporated in this Act in the years 1959 and 1983. Except the State of Sikkim, the Act applies to mines of all minerals within the country including the offshore mines within the countrys territorial waters.
For administering the provisions of the Indian Mines Act, the mine Inspectorate was first created as Bureau of Mines Inspection on June 7, 1902 forming a part of the GSI ( Geological Survey of India) in Calcutta. Later the name of the organisation was changed to Department of Mines in 1904 and its headquarters shifted to Dhanbad in 1908. After nearly six decades the organisation was renamed as "Office of the Chief Inspector of Mines" and only in 1967, the organisation was rechristened as Directorate-General of Mines Safety, DGMS.
The DGMS, which entered its 100th year of existence on 7th January 2001 had long recognised that legislative initiatives alone are not adequate to bring about perceptible change in the safety scenario. It, therefore, extended its role from merely an enforcer of legislation to a broader canvas of a facilitator of mine safety. It has played outstanding role in development of human resources through certification of managers and subordinate supervisory officials, training of workpersons, supervisors and managers and enlightening the mine operators about the long-term benefits of keeping the mine safe.
One hundred years of state intervention in respect of safety and health of mine workers has brought about significant fall in accidents causing fatalities and injuries. The fatality rate in respect of per thousand persons employed in coal mines fell from a high of 1.33 on a ten yearly average during 1931-40 to 0.33 during 1991-99. Unfortunately, however, there has been no appreciable reduction in fatal accident rates in coal mines during the last two decades. The same is true in case of non-coal mines where the figure has remained static at about 0.3 .
The strength of the inspecting staff of DGMS did not keep pace with the phenomenal expansion of the mining industry. Committees were set up from time to time to look into the issue of mine safety. These included the Kumaramangalam Committee set up in 1981, which recommended certain norms of inspections in coal mines as well as non-coal mines. The sub-committee of Consultative Committee of the Parliament of the Ministry of Labour endorsed these recommendations in 1996. Adhering to them would require a sizable increase in DGMS staff strength. But fiscal constraints are said to have not permitted increase in the posts of inspectors. However, the fact remains that there is no substitute to the physical inspection of mine inspite of development of automation in monitoring process. Even in developed countries the thrust is on physical inspection of mines.
Safety and Mining Technology
Although the mineral output from mines has gone up ten-fold during the past five decades, the workforce has increased only marginally. This is because of increased mechanisation of mining activities, which will witness more and more automation in the years to come. Technology has also brought about a tremendous change in the working scenario in the mines. Greater mechanisation has resulted in complex interaction of several processes demanding greater vigil and upgradation of skills to ensure safety. Moreover, with increased mechanisation new or intensified occupational health hazards like noise, vibration and even stress related illness among workers has increased which need to be addressed.
Training has been recognised as the key area to improve safety in coal mines. The DGMS has recently brought out a new schedule of vocational training in mines. It has been constantly training and retraining mine workers, supervisory staff and the managers to equip them with the latest know-how on prevention of accidents and ways and means to carry out the work safely. Moreover, the DGMS has been equipping through intensive training its inspecting officers with the latest techniques of inspections of mines and identification of hazards. Some of them have been sent abroad to acquaint and train them in the state-of-the-art safety techniques. The DGMS is planning to set up a Mine Safety and Health Academy comprising institutes at Dhanbad and Nagpur for providing structured training to its Inspecting Officers.
Occupational health in mining, which has so far been a neglected area needs to be projected as a thrust area in mine safety. Dust related occupational disease has not received the attention that it deserves in our country. It is known that there is no curative treatment for such diseases, particularly in the advanced stages. Ideally, therefore, it is necessary to create a mine environment where the respirable dust is within permissible limits. The surveillance measures should be strong enough for early detection of the disease so that the same can be controlled and arrested without causing major injuries to health. DGMS has taken several initiatives in training doctors in early identification of the occupational diseases among miners. Unlike in the past, individual workers health is receiving greater priority, thanks to the changes in social priorities and greater awareness among the workers.
Inspite of preventive measures, accidents do occur, though infrequently, either due to human failure or equipment failure. Therefore, disaster management plans are a must to mitigate the consequences of an accident. The most important aspect of these plans is to test them through periodic drills.
One of the major components of safety management is risk management and assessment. Quick and accurate information and also synthesis and evaluation of numerous technical data constitute an important component of safety management in mines. In an effort to apply information technology in these tasks, DGMS proposes to develop a computer based Mine Safety Information System (MSIS).
Accident Free Mining
On the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the DGMS at Dhanbad , the Labour Minister, Dr. Satyanarayan Jatiya urged the organisation to incorporate latest technological changes in safety instrumentation and quality assurance. He said total safety should also address the health problems of mine workers through the use of new technologies.