Colombia is in «a very difficult situation for important structural reasons» in terms of mining safety, he says Catherine Georgeconsultant on this subject and who was manager of Safety and Mining Rescue of the National Mining Agency (ANM) for a period of 10 years.
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From 2005 to date, 1,743 emergencies have been registered, which have left 1,978 fatalities in the country. However, as of 2020, which has been the second year with the greatest tragedies (153 accidents and 171 deaths), there has been a reduction in the figures.
In 2021, 128 mine accidents and 148 fatalities were reported, which decreased to 117 accidents and 146 deaths last year. While So far this year, the ANM has recorded 25 tragedies and 34 deaths.
The reporting department the greatest number of tragedies is boyacá, then Cundinamarca, Norte de Santander and Antioquia appear.
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The most recent event is the one that originated in Sutatausa, Cundinamarca, on Tuesday night and that, at press time, had left 14 miners confirmed dead, 9 injured and 11 more missing.
The emergency originated in a complex that exploits metallurgical coal and that includes the mines The Hole, The Lucero and La Esperanza, that are part of the Minminer Cooperative, which is made up of more than 200 miners.
Preliminary versions indicate that this tragedy would have occurred due to an accumulation of gases. However, the president of the ANM, Álvaro Pardo, assured that, once the rescue activities are completed, an investigation will begin to determine the real causes of this emergency.
“The mines in this area of cundinamarca they have a significant component of methane gas and coal dust, which is a lethal combination and can easily cause an explosion,” he said.
He also stated that, as a result of this tragedy, all the activities that began within the title were suspended, which means that no one can enter the mines while a process is being carried out to guarantee the safety of the miners.
“We are going to concentrate an inspection team in the area to inspect all the mines and it is verified that it complies with the legal requirements. With the four mines that were affected, a longer work will be done to determine the causes and consequences of the explosion, ”he said.
And it is that in the surrounding mines landslides and methane gas accumulations were found, so it will not be possible to reopen in the short term, since a technical report must be expected to be able to make definitive decisions.
Because there were injuries and deaths, this report prepared by the ANM will be forwarded to the prosecutor to initiate an investigation regarding criminal responsibilities.
The president of the ANM also assured that the mining owners are responsible for the management of the mine safety and to offer safe conditions to workers. Therefore, all mines that do not meet all the required technical and mining conditions will be closed.
How to avoid tragedies?
Catherine George that the main cause of mining accidents is associated with geomechanical failures, especially landslides in manifest underground mines. The second are methane gas and coal dust explosions, which have the potential to generate the greatest tragedies, and although they are complex to control, they can be prevented.
While in Australia 100 tons of coal are exploited in underground mines and they have not had any fatalities since 1994 to date due to explosions. In Colombia, 10 million tons are produced per year, on average, and only in 10 explosions in previous years, more than 200 dead workers were reported.
“If it is a very complex security issue. There are many mining projects that have adopted safety measures, despite having very large operations, which shows that this can be prevented,» says the mining safety consultant.
It also highlights that to avoid mining accidents, controls must be carried out to avoid the formation of an explosive atmosphere. The responsibility also falls on mining engineers and other professions, who have the duty to assume controls in operations and monitor safety conditions.
Colombia It already has a technical guide for the design of explosion prevention aircraft and a specialization in fire and explosion engineering offered by the National University.
“This can be prevented. Controls must be implemented and all interested parties must make an effort to do what corresponds to them well and generate policies that lead the mining sector to forget about this type of tragedies”, assured Gheorghe.