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.

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