Climate change and employee safety in mining

Climate change poses a significant risk to the safety of employees of mining operations.

The non-profit organization Business for Social Responsibility identifies that “Employee health and safety will be put at risk by increases in  communicable diseases, exposure to heat-related illnesses and the likelihood of accidents related to rising temperatures”. In their report, “Adapting to Climate Change: A Guide for the Mining Industry”, they also note that companies such as AngloGold Ashanti, Iluka Resources, and Cameco have already identified the following challenges to workers’ health and safety as a result of climate change:

  • Increased risk of injury and fatalities due to inhibited decision-making as employees try to cope with the heat
  • Inability of the existing infrastructure to provide safe working environments for employees (e.g., air-conditioning systems unable to cope)
  • Employees at increased risk of injury when driving because of flooding
  • Increased risk of shortage of water (for drinking, as well as for maintaining safe operations)

Up to 48% of mining companies readily admit that climate change is already having an impact on their operations. David Suzuki provides some specific examples of the impacts to mining operations in Canada. He argues, however, that response rates and low. Mining companies are just not prepared to meet the challenges of climate change.

What does this mean for employees?

Safety is a normal part of mining. This doesn’t mean that mining is 100% safe. But safety management systems, safety processes and polices, safety training, and safety communications—these are all accepted as necessary—and often mandatory—for many mining operations. Unfortunately, we have not yet seen an extension of the safety discourse in mining to include consideration of the new risks that employees face because of climate change.

Climate change is happening. It is affecting mining operations and their employees. But mining companies are not preparing their employees to deal with the new safety challenges they face. This means that employees are at risk. They simply do not have the skills or the knowledge they need to survive the long-term and sometimes unpredicted impacts of climate change.

Terrorism and Extractives: The Future

What is the state of terrorist threat to the operations of extractive industries? And what does the future hold?

The following information comes from AON’s guide to terrorism and political violence risk, issued in 2015:

  • 26% of terrorist attacks on business for the period 2014 – 2015 were against companies in or directly related to extractives.
  • Attacks in the oil and gas sectors for 2014 were at about the same rate as back in 2007. Both sectors saw increased attacks around 2010 and 2011.
  • Since 2007, 78% of all terrorist attacks have happened in 10 countries (Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Thailand, Russia, Somalia, Nigeria, Yemen and Colombia).
  • Most of the sever threats exist in Africa.
  • Nine Western countries now rate at increased risk: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, and Norway.

Political violence risks are moving to the top of many global companies’ agendas. High profile crises spanned the spectrum of insurable political violence risks in 2014: our findings this year suggest 2015 is liable to see similar instability, with heighten terrorism, war, and civil unrest risks present in many regions, including among the developed economies. (p.5)

For the full report, go to 2015 Terrorism & Political Violence Risk Map – A Guide.

Dealing with the unknowns of catastrophe

In Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next Fifty Years, Vaclav Smil considers a number of scenarios. What danger, damage, and destruction can we expect over the next 50 years? Will the biggest threat to human civilization come from volcanic eruption, economic collapse, climate change, terrorism, or extraterrestrial objects? The use of the word “trend” in title of the book hints at the approach Smil seeks to take in discussing this. His story is not about catastrophes that have occurred, although he references many to support his analysis. He’s also not interested in raising the level of fear by making any wild (or calculated) predictions about where the next catastrophe is likely to take place or what this catastrophe might involve. He is more interested in exploring the gap between our obsession with catastrophic events and the likelihood that those we fear most will ever happen in our lifetimes.

The book is dense with statistics and calculated rates of probability. This attention to detail adds weight to Smil’s insistence that we need to adopt a more rational and scientific approach to our thinking and worrying about catastrophe. Instead of relying on stories of doom and gloom, or on prophetic claims of the end of the world, he demands we think logically about what the real threats are to our ways of living in the first half of this century. Once we know and work with the facts, we can better assess the risks and prepare for events that are most likely to occur and most likely to prove catastrophic.

The overall conclusion that Smil makes is that much of our current concern about devastation to our world and cultures is unfounded. He insists that our current fears of economic meltdown and terrorism are overstated. He argues that climate change and poverty may cause us harm during the next few decades. Importantly, however, he encourages more attention to uncertainty. We currently spend a lot of resources trying to predict and to prepare us for a catastrophic event which may never occur. This may well be the practice of a human species that desires to be seen as and to act as rational. We so desperately want to be in control of it all, and by trying to predict and prepare for anything that might happen, this may convince us that we are. In reality, however, our emotions and fears drive much of this work; and this results in a lot of our time and money being put into issues that are extremely unlikely to affect us.

“But perhaps nothing is more important for the exercise of rational attitudes than always trying to consider events within longer historical perspectives and trying to avoid the chronic affliction of modern opinion makers who tend to favor extreme positions. The product of these ephemerally framed opinions is a range of attitudes and conclusions that resemble the cogitations of an unstable manic-depressive mind. Unrealistic optimism and vastly exaggerated expectations contrast with portrayals of irretrievable doom and indefensibly defeatist prospects.” (p.235)

While others write about the certainty of the rise of China as the next economic superpower or the certainty of Islamic fundamentalism, Smil draws on historical evidence to show how the future is rarely what we are certain it will be. How will the global economy shift and change? What will the impacts of climate change be on human cultures? When will the earth next be hit by a meteorite and how big will it be? There are too many factors to take into account and too many scenarios to consider to provide certain answers, Smil suggests. A catastrophe may happen. It is, according to Smil, unlikely to happen in the way we imagine it will. But we can never predict fully what will happen. And so we can only ever prepare ourselves for the unknown.

(Review by Dr. Dean Laplonge)


Myke Hawke speaks out on “being prepared…”
Here are a few statistics we can add to help us evaluate a need for readiness and to what degree readiness should be developed to mitigate exigencies.

  1. We know for a fact that in the 1960s there were 3 billion human beings on the planet.
  2. We know for a fact that today there are more than 7 billion.
  3. We can assume, at the current growth rate, there will be around 9 billion by the 2030s.

STATEMENT # 1: It took 10,000 years to get to 3 billion people and less than 100 years to get to 9 billion.
ASSUMPTION # 1: The human population that took all of mankind’s history to get to by the 1960s will triple in the course of one standard 80-year life span.

STATEMENT # 2: Almost all wars have been fought over resources.
ASSUMPTION # 2: Resources will become strained regardless of technological advances.

STATEMENT # 3: There have always been natural disasters.
ASSUMPTION # 3: The impacts of those disasters will affect more people simple because there are more people. It will also require more resources to recover since more people will experience losses.

A) PREPARE FOR DISASTERS. No one has ever accurately predicted exactly how things were to occur, regardless of man-made or natural disasters. Too many factors in human endeavors and within nature are unpredictable, but one thing is certain, wars and storms will happen.
B) TRAIN. No one can ever be fully ready for battle, but they can be better prepared than doing nothing, by training and becoming familiarized with what to expect and how better to react.
C) SUPPLY. Nothing manmade can withstand the full force of nature and manmade weapons can destroy everything we know. Having supplies and back-ups can ameliorate the circumstances.


Smil, V. (2012). Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next Fifty Years. Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press.

(Thank you to The MIT Press for providing a review copy. We hope to include an interview with Professor Smil in a future blog post.)

Resource Nationalism: It’s About People Too

In their “Mining Risk Review” for 2014, The Mining Practice Group of Willis identify “resource nationalism” as a significant risk faced by resource companies during the year ahead.

Resource nationalism continues apace, made worse by the yawning gap between public perception and commercial realities. Generally local populations are unaware of the falling commodity prices and believe mining companies are continuing to make huge profits. In a tough economic climate, governments are under increased pressure and mining companies can become convenient scapegoats in the run-up to elections. (p.3)

An increasing global demand for resources means that more mining companies are venturing into previously unchartered and often politically unstable spaces where they can secure and extract minerals. Even if these ventures are carried out openly, legally, and with full commitment from the ruling political party at the time, the review suggests that a political decision to nationalize (or re-nationalize) a country’s resources can seriously impact on established contracts and operations. The movie Big Men (2013, dir. Rachel Boynton) offers a good example of what this can mean for a resource company. The Willis review therefore recommends that mining companies pay close attention to the political situation in the areas in which they operate, and engage in transparent business to help keep local communities on side.

However if the capital is exhausted and promises are not delivered, the operation may face an entirely new challenge. A convergence could emerge: At the point where the local community is dissatisfied, management time is being taken up, productivity starts to drop, the government (be it local or central) could casts a critical eye over the project. The same government, which increased royalties, is likely to have made election promises, often bankrolled by the anticipated revenues. As the revenue stream dries up, the government may be under pressure to ‘review’ or even reallocate the license. The firm may then be faced with significant exit costs to unwind hedge agreements, close bank accounts and lay off staff. (p. 25)

But the warnings in this review do not go far enough. There is a focus only on the economic risks to resource companies, to the exclusion of any concern for the wellbeing and safety of their employees. Political instability or a change in a national government can have a very sudden and serious impact on the lives of foreign workers. In some cases, the mere presence of foreigners can become undesirable to those who hold political power and to the local people, particularly if rising nationalistic sentiment is combined with xenophobia. Local people who work for foreign mining companies can also be seen to be traitors and are therefore also often at risk of being attacked.

The nationalization of a country’s resources is one way that a national government can act out its political ideology. It can be a visible part of a political party’s platform prior to an election or it can be introduced suddenly as the result of a revolution. Either way, resource companies working in unstable political environments need to prepare for the impacts of this kind of activity on their employees. They need to assess the risks their employees might face in the event there is a change in attitude towards ownership of resources which form part of their otherwise legal operations. The nationalization of resources is also only one of the many ways that a change in the political environment can introduce a serious threat to workers and the workplace.

Launch of Hawke-EST

Myke Hawke and Ruth England, expert survivalists and co-stars of the popular TV series Man Woman Wild, have teamed up with resource industry culture expert Dr. Dean Laplonge to create a new extreme situation survival training service for resource companies and their employees.

Violent attacks against resource extraction operations are unfortunately becoming an all-too familiar news story. Extreme weather events are also on the rise, causing more flooding, landslides, wild fires, and drought. These all constitute heightened threats to the safety of employees working in remote and dangerous locations.

Myke and Ruth will provide bespoke survival training, pre-departure and in-field, to ensure resource company employees can survive in extreme and unpredictable situations. Through the Hawke-EST blog, our team will discuss a range of safety and security issues which impact on the survivability of these employees in the changing global landscape.

Hawke-EST (Extreme Situation Training). Specialist survival training for the resource sector.