Spanish mine closures could improve safety record

JP Casey 23 November 2018 (Last Updated November 23rd, 2018 12:17)

Energy experts have praised Spain for committing to phase out fossil fuels, following recent news that the country aims to produce 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050 and plans to close ten of its coal mines by the end of the year.

Spanish mine closures could improve safety record
A 2008 paper found that Spanish miners were 5.5 times more likely to be injured at work than US miners, and 16.1 more times more likely than their Australian counterparts. Credit: Jennifer Woodward Maderazo

Energy experts have praised Spain for committing to phase out fossil fuels, following recent news that the country aims to produce 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050 and plans to close ten of its coal mines by the end of the year.

However, the closures are not expected to make a significant contribution to Spain’s energy production, with just 2.3% of the nation’s electricity coming from coal, according to the Guardian.

The most significant impacts are anticipated to be felt in the Spanish economy, as the government and trade unions have already agreed a £221m deal to invest in coal mining areas to retrain former coal workers, as well as to the safety record of Spanish mines.

A team of researchers from the University of Catalonia published a paper in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, which found that Spanish miners faced disproportionately higher risks than their counterparts in other sectors and countries.

Analysing data from 2005-2015, the team found that Spanish miners were 4.3 times more likely to suffer from accidents, compared to workers in other sectors, and were 5.5 times more likely to be injured at work than US miners. Compared to Australian miners, Spanish workers were 16.1 times more likely to suffer an injury.

While the researchers did find that the injury incidence rate in Spanish mines had fallen by 2.1 times over the decade studied, the large-scale closure of mines in Spain is likely to have an even greater positive impact on the number of workplace injuries.

In 2015, 23,997 people were employed in mines and mineral processing operations in Spain; removing them from hazardous workplaces could improve the country’s safety record, especially as the researchers identified physical exertion as a key cause of injuries.

“The accident analysis in Spanish surface mining between 2003 and 2012 showed that one of the main causes of accidents was physical overexertion on the musculoskeletal system, with body movement being the most common immediate cause,” said the scientists in the paper.

The research also revealed that accidents are more likely to take place at operations with a smaller number of workers. The team assigned a ‘risk index’ to operations of various sizes, with higher numbers reflecting a greater likelihood of an accident occurring.

Operations with 49 or fewer workers accounted for just 4.2% of all Spanish miners, but reported 12.2% of all accidents, giving these operations a risk index of 2.9. Conversely the largest operations, those with 500 or more workers, were given a risk index of just 0.4. Despite being responsible for 27.9% of accidents, these larger mines employed close to two-thirds of all workers, dramatically reducing the ratio of workers to accidents.

The researchers concluded: “the three most influential factors in coal mine accidents were: [a] lack of safety education and training; rules and regulations for safety production responsibility; and rules and regulations for supervision and inspection.”