Labor Ministry Focuses on Safety Performance on Mines
For many years, occupational accidents on mines have sparked public interest, antagonized private and public actors, and called the attention of the local and federal Human Rights Commissions. During the past administration, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) emitted three recommendations to the Labor and Social Welfare Ministry (STPS) in relation to safety conditions on mining projects. The current administration maintains a record of 38 accidents on mining projects in the first nine months of its presidential term. Incidents were concentrated in the states of Chihuahua, Durango, and Zacatecas (with seven accidents in each), and Coahuila (where 5 accidents occurred). Rafael Avante, the Undersecretary of Labor at STPS, affirmed at a mining union event that “safety in mines is an absolute priority for the Federal Government, for the Minister of Labor and for the STPS as a whole. This issue will have our complete attention.” The Ministry is already undertaking several actions to ensure the enforcement of safety measures on mines, and to mantain decent and stable working conditions for all those working in the sector.
In his first month at the head of the STPS, Minister of Labor Alfonso Navarrete announced an extensive inspection program focused on detecting clandestine coal mines in the states of Coahuila and Durango. While announcing 200 inspections in those states over the span of two months, he stated that even if the Economy Ministry is the government entity in charge of granting mining concessions, the recent Labor Law reform has given the Labor Ministry additional power with regards to safety and health. “This allows us to get involved, and this is why we will launch these inspections,” he stated. Through the reforms to the Federal Labor Law (LFT) in November 2012, the Ministry’s inspectors now have an increased capacity to suspend mining operations if they believe they pose a significant potential risk to workers’ safety. Furthermore, the economic sanctions that result from failure to follow safety norms were substantially increased through the reform, and can now reach up to MX$323,800 (approximately US$25,719). Between 2006 and 2012 the number of inspectors grew 256%, and the total number of inspections performed increased 368% during the same period. The increase in Mexico’s inspector workforce has brought the country’s ratio of inspectors for every 100,000 inhabitants to 1.77, which means that the country is not yet in compliance with the International Labor Organzation’s recommendation of 4.1 inspectors to every 100,000 people. During the first five months of 2013, the STPS inspected 7.3% more companies compared to the same period in 2012. The Ministry’s inspection budget is programmed to grow by 5% in 2014.
Inspections have been made more transparent and effective through the Support System for Inspection Processes (SAPI). This tool greatly enhances a company’s preparedness and its capacity to successfully pass any inspection. In addition, the STPS also offers mining companies a compliance guide through the Self-Management Program in Health and Safety at Work (PASST). Mining companies and industry suppliers and service providers that follow the PASST are awarded a “Safe Company” certification. Mining companies that now possess this certification enjoy the benefits of complying with national and international safety standards, which are required by stock exchanges and the financial services industry. The STPS is also working at the local level to improve occupational safety procedures in all areas and branches of the mining industry. The Ministry’s efforts involve state governments, universities, workers, and mining companies. Through its delegation in Queretaro, for example, the Ministry organized the state’s first Forum for Safety and Health in the Mining Sector, which aims to increase technical skills and managerial abilities among miners, thus enabling the safe and efficient use of their equipment. Another notable case is Zacatecas, the world’s silver mining hub, where the STPS has collaborated with the University of Zacatecas’s Mining Accidents Prevention Course, and organized the Occupational Health and Safety Week. This last event was directed towards the training of workers and the promotion of preventative safety measures
Over the last 10 years (2002-2012) the mining industry boom has propelled an increase of more than 60% in the number of people employed by the sector, which would ordinarily lead to an increase in the total number of accidents reported by mines every year. However, the combined efforts of the STPS and industry participants have led to a 30% reduction in the number of accidents and a 38% decline in the number of deaths per 10,000 employees in the mining industry during 2007-2012. It is now safer to work on mining projects than in other activities that have traditionally been considered less dangerous. The STPS reports that, in 2011, the percentage of occupational accidents and illnesses in the mining industry was lower (4.54 accidents for every 100 workers) in self-service stores (5.72 accidents for every 100 workers) and in the commercialization of food, beverages and tobacco products (4.70 accidents for every 100 workers). Moreover, the number of fatal accidents in Mexico’s mining industry as a proportion of the world total has dropped. From 2002 to 2011 the country accounted for 6.5% of the world’s fatal mining accidents. This number was less than the proportion for China (24.2%), Colombia (16.7%), Peru (11.8%), and the US (11.2%).
In general, better enforcement and compliance with health and safety norms in the mining industry benefits both the government and the sector’s employers. Thanks to the efforts of workers, educators, authorities, companies and industry regulators such as the STPS, the reduced occurrence of accidents in mines has contributed to the creation of a better working climate for mining employees and to the promotion of the country as an attractive investment destination for mining projects.