Safety has long been a controversial issue in the mining business especially with sub-surface mining. While mining today is substantially safer than it was in the previous decades, mining accidents are often very high profile. The Courrières mine disaster, Europe's worst mining accident, involved the death of 1,099 miners in Northern France on 10 March 1906. This disaster was surpassed only by the Benxihu Colliery accident in China on April 26, 1942, which killed 1,549 miners Government figures indicate that 5,000 Chinese miners die in accidents each year, while other reports have suggested a figure as high as 20,000. Mining ventilation is a significant safety concern for many miners. Poor ventilation of the mines causes exposure to harmful gases, heat and dust inside sub-surface mines. These can cause harmful physiological effects, including death. The concentration of methane and other airborne contaminants underground can generally be controlled by dilution (ventilation), capture before entering the host air stream (methane drainage), or isolation (seals and stoppings).]
Ignited methane gas is a common source of explosions in coal mines, or, the more violent coal dust explosions. Gases in mines can also poison the workers or displace the oxygen in the mine, causing asphyxiation. For this reason, the MHSA requires that workers have gas detection equipment in groups of miners. It must be able to detect common gases, such as CO, O2, H2S, CH4 and % Lower Explosive Limit. Regulation requires that all production stops if there is a concentrate of 1.4% of flammable gas present. Additionally, further regulation is being requested for more gas detection as newer technology such as nanotechnology is introduced.
High temperatures and humidity may result in heat-related illnesses, including heat stroke which can be fatal. Dusts can cause lung problems, including silicosis, asbestosis and pneumoconiosis (also known as miners lung or black lung disease). A ventilation system is set up to force a stream of air through the working areas of the mine. The air circulation necessary for the effective ventilation of a mine is generated by one or more large mine fans, usually located above ground. Air flows in one direction only, making circuits through the mine such that each main work area constantly receives a supply of fresh air. Watering down in coal mines also helps to keep dust levels down, this is achieved using sprays on the machine and a scrubber fan that filters the dust filled water trapping the dust.
Miners utilize equipment strong enough to break through extremely hard layers of the Earth's crust. This equipment, combined with the closed workspace that underground miners work in, can cause hearing loss. For example, a roof bolter (commonly used by mine roof bolter operators) can reach sound power levels of up to 115 dB. Combined with the reverberant effects of underground mines, a miner without proper hearing protection is at a high risk for hearing loss.]
Since mining entails removing dirt and rock from its natural location creating large empty pits, rooms and tunnels, cave-ins are a major concern within mines. Modern techniques for timbering and bracing walls and ceilings within sub-surface mines have reduced the number of fatalities due to cave-ins, but accidents still occur. The presence of heavy equipment in confined spaces also poses a risk to miners, and despite modern improvements to safety practices, mining remains dangerous throughout the world.