Thursday, March 09, 2006

But it's murder just the same

Yesterday, Robert James McGowan died when the mine he was working at flooded work yesterday. It was a private mine on the West Coast of New Zealand that employed just 6 people.

This sort of thing is always called an accident, but deaths at work don't have to happen. They happen because it's cheaper to do things the more dangerous way, and because employers don't provide proper equipment and training. There is a really interesting analysis of the situation in America (where 21 people have died in mine accidents so far this year) on the world socialist website.

Anti-capitalism is a large part of my politics (I own a t-shirt that says "it's all capitalism's fault"), but I don't understand how anyone can stand the values that make mining companies decide they don't need a particular safety procedure.

This post was also posted on Alas


  1. I'm not sure what you're on about here - From the reports online, I can't see any evidence that the death was because of inadequate safety equipment (because nothing much is mentioned about the standards and equipment used at that mine for that inference to be drawn about this incident.) There's not much you can do about collapses and flooding from old mine workings - many old mines left very little in the way of accurate surveys of underground workings, so it's not as if this was obviously a safety failure on the part of the modern miners - it's very difficult to predict locations and sites of possible failure, even with full survey capability and modern mine modelling software. I'm not sure you adequately understand the physics of underground mining, either - even with full modern safety equipment, mining accidents simply cannot be prevented, often due to basic rock mechanics and utterly unpredictable peculiarities of geology (without even taking into account the myriad utterly stupid things I have seen miners do (and even on occasion done myself in moments of brain-fart)). It just comes down to how good your mine geologist is, how well the miners stick to his planning, and even if you still rockbolt the shit out of everything that looks weak, shotcrete up the fractures and leave plenty of pillaring, it still falls off where and when you least expect it.

    So far as I can see, non-capitalist mines can be every bit as dangerous as capitalist mines, and I fail to beleive the socialist utopia can exist without mining anything at all, which is the only way to stop mining accidents that I've ever heard of.

    Or do you plan to stop using any and all implements and resources derived from mined minerals?

    I've been in underground and opencast mines in Australia, NZ and Chile, either employed as a mine/exploration geologist, or as a visitor, and this shit just happens no matter how careful one is, or how stingy or generous one's capitalist or socialist overlords are. It's worse when the bosses are bad/cheap, it's better when they're not, but it is _always_ going to happen.

    Mining is dangerous business, even when you do have adequate safety gear, and the Darwin factor that humans (particularly male ones) are capable of, and the huge number of ways plans can go wrong, means that I think you're pushing shit up hill with a sharp stick if you think you can regulate this sort of accident out of existence.

  2. Several comments have been deleted for rudeness, anti-semitism, and general craziness.

    I don't agree that in an old mine, where it's possible to run into old mining works, and where it wasn't even noticed that these people were missing until they were late for lunch, thateverything that could have been done had been done.

  3. Having ACC doesn't help - employers can't be sued for damage caused, including being sued by family due to death. However, look at mines in the non-capitalist world - well don't, you'll be horrified. I suspect if the miners owned the mine then they would rather choose to keep it open and surrender some safety, than have it closed.

    OSH will investigate this accident and come to a conclusion that may mean prosecution of the owner and imprisonment, and possibly shutting the mine. That's a fairly powerful incentive to not let this thing happen through negligence. Let's wait and see why it happened, I doubt the owner is sitting in his money bin rubbing hands with glee about this.

  4. weekendI too have an anticapitalist perspective, but the economic system in this case is only part of a deeper issue. The good likelihood, especially given what weekend_viking said, is that, if not compelled by economic needs, few people would climb down an unstable hole deep into the ground for some shiny metal (or whatever they dig up in NZ). As Derrick Jensen writes in 'The Culture of Make Believe,' if capitalists were forced to live next to their polluting chemical plants [manufacturing facilities, oil refineries, power plants, teflon pans, etc.], one way or another there would be no pollution and there would be no industrial 'accidents.'

    The tragedy with the mine accidents that have happened recently is that most of the people who died were definitely not benefiting significantly from their involvement with the mine, and were not legitimately in the mine by [legitimate] choice. It is the authoritarian power of the capitalists (or socialists, in other examples given) that makes this murder, and that power is in the capitalist world, created by artifical economic need.

    (Of course, there may be those who WERE choosing to work in the mines, because that's what they want to do; there are definitely those who specifically choose high-risk professions. But let their choice not offset the tragedy of those who were murdered by our authoritarian economic and political systems).

  5. I choose to work in mines - it doubles to triples my income as compared to what I can make as an academic, and it enables me to live and work in some very extreme and interesting environments, and working with the rocks and minerals that are my obsession. I voluntarily go in to old mine workings, and people pay me for it. I know the risks involved, why should I bother suing someone if something goes wrong - it's on my own head.

    Regardless of the economic system we chose or are forced to live under, we _cannot_ run even a stripped down version of modern society without mining. Even with good recycling, some elements are easier to work with when derived from fresh ores, as opposed to after one or more cycles of industrial use (re-purifying used metal alloys is rather difficult). The human race started mining more than ten thousand years ago, with small open pit mines for flint and chert, and we've been doing it ever since. (Hint - we even mine some of the raw ingredients for your toothpaste.)

    Joshua wrote: "The good likelihood, especially given what weekend_viking said, is that, if not compelled by economic needs, few people would climb down an unstable hole deep into the ground for some shiny metal (or whatever they dig up in NZ)."

    How are you going to remove the economic need to mine, regardless of political/economic system? Is everyone from the first to the third world going to stop using iron, copper, aluminium, lead, zinc, etc? Sorry to burst your bubble, but the human race has been reliant on mined metals for the bulk of its tools for what, 7000 years? Virtually every manufactured item today contains materials that were mined, and unless you forsee huge cuts in world population growth, we need to continue mining (and recycling) to supply those materials, even without the madness of consumerism.

    This mine accident, like any mine accident, is a tragedy, and it may have been preventable, but it's not murder. If the mine regulations were so slack as to not have regular radio safety checks (I like half hourly checks underground, hourly checks above ground, four hourly checks during exploration), then it may be something akin to manslaughter, but this is all for the courts and coroner to reveal.

    If you want to rant about unsafe mining, try investigating the safety standards in China and India, where they kill hundreds of miners a year.