The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) based in the eastern city of Kharagpur has announced that it will launch a new masters’ course in mining safety. It will aim to educate students about how to manage risks and ensure operational safety in mines.

The course, which is reported to be called “Safety, Health and Environment” by the Hindustan Times, will be taught as part of the university’s department of mining engineering, and is planned to begin in July with 11 students. The postgraduate course will be an M Tech programme, an Indian qualification equivalent to a master’s degree in science, which requires applicants to have already completed a four-year B Tech degree to a high standard. It is aimed at students who expect to go on to have key jobs in the mining industry.

The news follows considerable improvement in Indian mining safety over the last half-century, with the latest report from the country’s director general of mines safety Rahul Guha, published in 2014, showing that the fatality rate per thousand miners has fallen from 0.91 in 1951 to 0.23 in 2013 in coal mines, and 0.67 to 0.35 over the same period in non-coal operations.

There has been a parallel drop in the number of accidents since the turn of the millennium, with the number of accidents the report defines as “serious” falling from 667 in 2001 to 379 in 2014, and the number of workers injured dropping from 720 to 394 over the same period.

However, recent accidents at illegal mines have highlighted the need for improved operational safety, with 13 people feared dead at an illegal rate-hold coal mine in the state of Meghalaya. Such illegal operations have pushed the number of deaths at Indian mines up again, with 377 reported deaths between 2015 and 2017.

In the 2014 report, Guha commented that individual miners need to improve their decision-making ability to avoid future fatalities.

“In order to move forward, risk-based decision making must be emphasized, employed and improved in all aspects of management,” wrote Guha. “Management plans need to be developed to address all hazards and related contingencies, simple regulatory compliance alone is not sufficient to mitigate risks.”

The IIT’s emphasis on the training of individuals in good safety practices could address this trend, as miners operating beyond the law in small-scale operations will not be able to rely on standardised equipment and support from large-scale companies to ensure safety. The university hopes the new course will help ensure individuals are able to protect themselves and others in mining operations.