Canaries and Coffins – by Russell Noble (Canadian Mining Journal – June/July 2014)

Russell Noble is the editor for the Canadian Mining Journal, Canada’s first mining publication.

Canaries and coffins were once commonly listed as “supplies” at many mines because as we all know, in the earlier days of underground mining, particularly coal mining, the working conditions weren’t all that great and safety certainly wasn’t a consideration.

In fact, they were deplorable based on some historical photos I’ve seen that show workers subjecting themselves to environments unimaginable by today’s standards. Mind you, particularly during the aftermath of the recent Soma disaster in Turkey, are the mines of the world really all that much better today?

One would hope so but increasingly we’re hearing of, and seeing more examples that demonstrate they’re not!

There’s no argument that the mines in North America and many others around the world for that matter that are owned
and operated from here are safer by comparison, but it’s the others that are run in a haphazard manner by sketchy owners and governments with no respect nor compassion for the well-being of their miners that broad brush the mining industry as being heartless and negligent.

What just happened in Turkey, and routinely happens in China I suspect, just shows how little value too many governments place on their own people. Those of us fortunate enough to live and work here can only look on with amazement at the lack of compassion many mine operators have for their miners.

Working in some of those mines must be like punching your own time clock on life. It’s kind of like pushing the release button on a hangman’s noose or the guillotine’s blade. You know what you’re facing is grim but you hope something happens to postpone the inevitable and you live to see another day.

Regardless, people should not be forced (and many are) to accept ‘death’ as being part of their job’s description. I know that fire fighters and police are aware of the ‘possibilities’ but no other profession that I know of other than third-world mining is it a likelihood.

Reading stories about the Soma disaster and the subsequent protests against the mine owner and the local government
makes me sympathize for the people and their situation in Turkey, but it also reminds me of Waylon Jennings’ song: “Momma, don’t let your babies grow up to be a cowboy.”

After some of the news coverage we saw showing burnt and mangled bodies being removed from the depths of the Soma mine, I can just imagine how many mothers around the world looked over at their kids and thought: “Don’t let your
babies grow up to be a miner.”

Being a parent and grandparent now, I naturally worry about my kids’ safety and well being all the time and after seeing the images of those victims from the mine disaster, it makes me grateful that all is well on the Noble front.

But from the mining industry’s perspective, news coverage of mining accidents, regardless of whether they’re on the magnitude of Turkey’s, or on a smaller yet equally terrible case like Lorna Weafer’s (the 36-year-old Suncor employee who was mauled to death by a bear recently at an oil sands’ site in northern Alberta), the truth of the matter is that events like those cast lasting impressions in people’s minds.

The word “mining” gets associated with death and disaster but like I said earlier, ‘most’ mines and mining operations are ‘safe’ and North American mothers need not worry (too much) about letting their babies grow up to be miners.