| Written by Michal Wozniakowski-Zehenter

Mining has been essential to human development, driving technological and economic advances throughout history. However, mining is also hazardous, with risks ranging from cave-ins and explosions to long-term health issues like lung diseases. As mining operations grew in size and complexity, there was a greater push to enhance safety and decrease accidents. Throughout history, centuries and decades, major mining disasters have prompted significant changes, leading to better safety protocols and technologies. Safety is now a critical aspect of the operations, deeply ingrained in the industry’s culture and governed by strict regulations.

This whitepaper aims to explore the evolution of safety measures in the mining industry. We will look at early practices, technological advancements, and the implementation of safety procedures that have reduced risks. By reviewing these changes, we aim to show how the industry has evolved from being extremely dangerous to prioritizing worker safety.

Mining History

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Mining history: HOW Did SAFETY IN MInIng start?

Back in the day, but really way back, when everything started in mining, all practices were marked with danger. They often involved more than digging into the earth with basic tools such as stone hammers and chisels. Those methods were very inefficient and posed significant risks to the early miners. Without any formal understanding of ventilation, mines were prone to the build-up of toxic gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which often led to suffocation or explosive incidents. Tunnels lacking proper structure were another issue during those times. There weren’t wall and ceiling reinforcements, which resulted in cave-ins and collapses. These accidents were often fatal, as there were no established procedures for rescue or emergency response.

During the medieval period, mining techniques saw slight advancements, but safety remained a secondary concern. Miners began to employ basic ventilation systems, such as fire usage and bellows, to create airflow and reduce the build-up of harmful gases. But those methods were still kind of simple and primitive while not being very effective. Accidents were common, and people working in the industry had little to no protection against the threats they faced. There were also no formal “safety” measures or regulations in place (how should they be – not many people thought about the importance of well-being), and the miners were often left to rely on their experience and intuition to avoid incidents.

The lack of understanding of geological conditions also meant that miners frequently encountered unexpected dangers, such as pockets of water or unstable rock formations, which could lead to sudden and catastrophic failures.



The late 18th and the following 19th century was a period which saw huge transformation in many industries. The Industrial Revolution didn’t skip mining. One of the most significant, for the time being, technological advancements during this era was the dramatic improvement in ventilation systems. Prior, it often relied on natural airflow. Still, with the introduction of steam-powered engines, giant fans began circulating fresh air throughout shafts and tunnels, significantly reducing the build-up of dangerous gases. This helped make mining safer and allowed miners to work deeper underground, where richer mineral deposits were often found.

Thanks to the brilliant mind of the British chemist and inventor Sir Humphry Davy, another milestone was achieved. He isolated several elements like potassium and sodium and came up in 1815 with a mining lamp named after him – the Davy lamp. It was a safety lamp designed specifically for use in explosive atmospheres found in coal mines. Its simple yet effective design used a mesh screen to prevent the flame from igniting the surrounding gases. This invention greatly reduced the number of explosions caused by igniting methane, which had been, and until today is, a significant hazard in coal mining.

Recently, Alan Jones, chairman of the North Wales Miners Association Trust, told BBC: “Over the last two centuries, the Davy Lamp has seen countless tweaks and improvements, like the introduction of a glass window to allow more light, but it still the same basic principle. Even today, men working underground will carry a Davy Lamp because while more sophisticated electronic monitors can fail, a Davy Lamp will always work.” What has changed is also the mindset and thinking about the work environment and conditions people had to deal with. The boom of mining brought to the public eye the harsh and often deadly conditions faced by miners. It led to public outcry and demands for reform to improve it. The first significant piece of legislation aimed at improving mining conditions was the British Mines Act of 1842. This Act prohibited the employment of women and children (during the time under 10 years old) underground, addressing both safety concerns and ethical issues related to labour exploitation. Further legislation in 1850 addressed the frequency of accidents in mines. The Coal Mines Inspection Act introduced the appointment of inspectors of coal mines, setting out their powers and duties, and placed them under the supervision of the Home Office. The Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1860 improved safety rules and raised the age limit for boys from 10 to 12.

Technological advancements played their part. As mentioned earlier, steam engines help with replacing manual labour with machines. Steam-powered pumps and drills increase efficiency and reduce the physical work on miners, helping to lower the risks linked with this type of action – tunnel collapses and rock falls. On the flip side, it also brought new dangers to daily work in the mine. Mechanical failures and accidents with not yet enough experienced workers only highlighted the need for constant and ongoing safety improvement. One of them was creating personal protective equipment. Workers started to use helmets, gloves, and protective clothing to shield themselves from falling debris, sharp rocks, and other hazards. Over time, PPE became even more advanced and better suited to the specific dangers of mining environments.



The real breakthrough of the early 1900’s was another legislative step. Upgraded laws and rules protecting the health and life of miners were needed. Luckily, governmental representatives and industry leaders saw it, and in the United States in 1910, the Federal Bureau of Mines was established. It was a very important step forward, allowing the agency to research mining methods, investigate accidents, and promote safer mining practices. The bureau’s efforts improved the safety standards and routines, including better ventilation, usage of safer explosives, and more effective control of mine dust.

One of the most iconic practices of the early 20th century was the use of canaries in coal mines. These small birds, with a high metabolic rate, were particularly sensitive to toxic gases such as carbon monoxide and methane. Miners began to use these birds as early warning systems for the presence of dangerous gases. Canaries were in small cages, and their health was closely monitored. If a bird showed signs of distress or died, it was a clear indicator that the air quality was not good and dangerous - prompting miners to evacuate the area immediately. This simple practice was highly effective and became a standard safety measure in coal mines for many decades.

As in previous eras, ventilation has improved during this one as well.

Now, it was electrically powered, mechanical ventilation, which became more common, improving air quality and reducing the risk of gas explosions and suffocation. Designed to circulate fresh air across the mine, diluting and removing toxic gases and dust. It also helped to reduce the risk of lung diseases among miners, such as pneumoconiosis, which is commonly known as black lung disease.

The beginning of the 20th century also saw the establishment of rescue teams and training programs. People were trained to respond quickly and effectively to mining accidents, such as cave-ins, explosions, and gas leaks. They were equipped with breathing apparatuses, communication tools, and other rescue equipment, enabling them to reach trapped miners and provide life-saving assistance. During this time, common rescue response procedures were created, helping to save many lives of hurt and injured miners and reduce the impact of various disasters.


Mining History: safety UNTIL YEAR 2K

From the middle of the last century, technology started to play an even more critical role than ever before. Heavy machinery, such as longwall mining equipment and hydraulic drills, revolutionised the way mining was conducted. Productivity burst but also took a lot of pressure away from intensive and more dangerous labour work. The result? The risk of accidents caused by human error or physical fatigue was greatly diminished. But again, new problems rose up—mechanical failures, which were way more complicated than in the past, and regular maintenance.

The real game-changer in mining safety was the development of real-time monitoring systems. These systems, equipped with sensors and alarms, provide early warnings of potential hazards, allowing for prompt evacuation or remedial action to prevent accidents. The real-time monitoring of conditions represents a significant leap forward in proactive safety management, as it enables the immediate detection and mitigation of risks, thereby ensuring the safety of mining operations (see: RFID in mining).

There was also a need for an upgrade of the framework. On American soil, the passing of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 was a remarkable milestone. The Coal Act, as it’s commonly known, required two annual inspections of every surface coal mine and four at every underground one. It also dramatically increased federal enforcement powers in coal mines, introducing monetary and criminal penalties for neglecting deficiencies. Consequently, the safety standards for all coal mines were strengthened, and health standards were adopted. As President Nixon signed the new law, he declared that it “represents a crucially needed step forward in the protection of America’s coal miners.” The Coal Act also included specific procedures for the development of improved mandatory health standards and provided compensation for miners who were totally and permanently disabled by the progressive respiratory disease caused by the inhalation of fine coal dust pneumoconiosis or black lung.


Mining history: The modern era

Technological advancement exploded even faster at the beginning of the 2000s, with safety becoming one of the priorities in many parts of the world. Modern mines started implementing risk assessments to identify potential hazards and mitigate those threats. This proactive approach to safety helps prevent accidents before they occur. Risk assessments are conducted regularly and updated as new information and technologies become available.

Mining companies recognise that creating a safety culture is essential for sustaining improvements in mine safety. This involves promoting safety as a core value at all levels of the organization, from senior management to frontline workers. Companies invest heavily in safety training and education programs to ensure that all employees know safety protocols and the importance of following them. Regular safety drills and emergency response training are conducted to prepare workers for potential incidents. Governments and international organizations are also playing their part: Regulatory agencies conduct regular inspections and audits to ensure compliance, and companies that fail to meet these standards face significant penalties.

Organizations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) facilitate the exchange of best practices and the development of global safety standards. Conferences, workshops, and industry forums provide platforms for mining professionals to share their experiences and learn from each other. This collaborative approach helps spread innovative safety solutions and promotes a unified effort to enhance mining safety worldwide.

Technology made great leaps forward and provides miners with wearable technology for personnel tracking.



What are safety measures in mining?

Safety measures in mining include various practices and technologies to protect workers. It starts with identifying potential hazards and finding ways to reduce these risks. Good ventilation systems are crucial to remove toxic gases like methane and carbon monoxide, which helps prevent explosions and suffocation.

Miners use personal protective equipment (PPE) such as helmets, gloves, respirators, and protective clothing to protect themselves from injuries and harmful substances. Automation and remote-controlled machines are used to keep humans away from dangerous tasks and environments, lowering the chance of accidents. Real-time monitoring systems continuously check for gas levels and ground stability, allowing for quick action if there's a threat.

Regular safety training and drills teach miners how to handle emergencies and maintain safety. Inspections enforce safety regulations, ensuring that mining operations follow the rules. Special mine rescue teams are always ready to respond to emergencies, providing quick and effective help when needed. These combined safety measures aim to protect miners' lives and health.



The usage of new technologies in every branch of business is remarkable. It’s no different in the mining industry. Most of them are well-known and introduced in many operations globally; some are just newly introduced but gaining new users year by year. Having safety as a priority will always push the industry to search for newer and better solutions to save lives and mitigate risks. Their usage depends on the setup of the operation, the budget, and the possibility of seamless integration of the new system into an existing environment.

History of Mining Safety

Delve deeper into one of our core topics: Miner Safety








Michal Wozniakowski-Zehenter, Marketing Manager

Michal Wozniakowski-Zehenter is an experienced marketing and project management professional. He spent most of his career on projects with a strong focus on digital marketing and event management. He is a very active voice representing offshore and mining industries through social media channels. Michal writes mainly about offshore oil and gas, renewable energy, mining and tunnelling. Compiling and sharing the knowledge within industries is one of his goals.