Modern coal mines have rigorous safety procedures, health and safety standards and worker education and training.
The coal industry takes the issue of safety very seriously; WCA members strive for a goal of zero fatalities and publish statistics for both fatal and non-fatal accidents in their annual reports. The safety of workers should always be a primary consideration in any form of coal mining.
Coal mining deep underground involves a higher safety risk than coal mined in opencast pits, due primarily to problems associated with mine ventilation and the potential for mining collapse. However, there are safety risks associated with all forms of coal mining, not least because of the heavy machinery utilised in coal excavation.
Mining explosions are a particularly prevalent safety risk in underground mining. Methane released from the coal seam and surrounding rock strata during the process of mining can present a high risk of explosion at concentrations in air of 5-15%. Techniques have been developed to eliminate and/or dilute methane emissions both prior to and during mining (see the Coal Mine Methane page) and this has helped to significantly reduce methane related explosions in underground mines.
Modern coal mines have rigorous safety procedures, health and safety standards and worker education and training, which have led to significant improvements in safety levels in both underground and opencast mining.
However, there are still problems within the industry. Safety in coal mining in China is a critical issue. The number of fatalities is unacceptably high, particularly due to the number of unregulated small coal mines that have operated in recent years. The Chinese authorities recognise this and are working hard to improve their performance, closing unsafe mines and promoting best practice. Major coal mining companies in the west are receiving a growing number of delegations from the Chinese coal mining sector together with government officials anxious to learn and to implement proven safe practices. The top Chinese coal mining companies have a safety record comparable to the best elsewhere in the world and they provide an important platform within the country to further advance the implementation of safe mining practices.