Safety at work has a long tradition in the mining sector because of the difficult working conditions underground and opencast. The EU Directive on Safety and Health Protection of Workers in the Extractive Industries provided new rules for safe workplaces in 1992.
In accordance with this Directive, the employer is required to:
- Ensure that workplaces are designed and operated in such a way as to protect the workers’ safety and/or health;
- Make provision for responsible supervision during operation of manned workplaces;
- Entrust work involving a special risk only to competent workers;
- Ensure that safety instructions are comprehensible to all the workers concerned;
- Provide first-aid facilities and run safety exercises at regular intervals;
- Prevent fires, explosions and health-endangering noxious atmospheres by taking measures and precautions appropriate to the nature of the operation;
- Ensure the presence and maintenance of escape and rescue facilities;
- Provide the necessary communication, warning and alarm systems enabling immediate implementation of rescue operations;
- Ensure that workers undergo regular health checks;
- Ensure consultation and participation of workers on the matters covered by the Directive.
Prior to the commencement of work, the employer must ensure that a document concerning safety and health is prepared and kept up to date. This document must show, in particular, that the risks for workers at the workplace have been determined and assessed, that appropriate measures have been taken and that the workplace is designed, operated and maintained in line with safety requirements.
However, employees and employers have to develop health and safety procedures in close cooperation. Workers must make a major contribution to “their” industrial safety, supported by appropriate technical and organisational measures taken by the employers.
The coal sector has in the meantime achieved a lot in health and safety. German lignite mining for example is the N° 1 for national safety at work. For more than 10 years, the work accident rate dropped lower than 10 notifiable work accidents / million hours (i.e. absence of more than 3 days). This is not known in any other German business sector.