According to a survey of over 800 global mining executives, the mining industry is set to face a series of health-related class actions in the coming decade.
A leading global report on the mining ecosystem by research group State of Play has found that 76% of global mining executives believe there will be a major health-related class action lawsuit in the next fifteen years.
The risk of class action could be centred on the health impact of inhaling diesel particulates in underground mines. More than 50% of executives surveyed believe that airborne particulates are one of the greatest threats to the health of the mining workforce globally.
The majority of underground mine sites use equipment that generate air pollutants and these diesel exhaust particulates can have devastating impacts on human life if not removed through high quality air filtering systems.
Aspen Medical is a leading global healthcare provider for the resources sector. Glenn Keys AO, Executive Chairman of Aspen Medical stresses that “frequent exposure to diesel particulates on a mine site can cause long term, chronic respiratory illness with symptoms including coughing and feeling breathless.
At worst, if workers are exposed to diesel engine particulates regularly and over a long period, there is an increased risk of developing lung cancer. However, detailed occupational health planning and processes can help reduce or minimise the potential risk.”
There are two main reasons behind this threat of class action. The first reason is that executives are aware of the health risk that workers are exposed to and are not taking reasonable action to combat this risk. The second reason is the availability of lower risk mining alternatives, yet these alternatives are not being utilised.
A key alternative to traditional mining is the electrification of mine sites which would eliminate the emission of these carcinogens.
Even if miners escape class action suits, regulators are likely to enforce technology changes, particularly as other equipment options are adopted by industry-leading companies. Given the massive legal liability and awareness, any board that does not currently prioritise long-term health as a primary strategic risk could be accused of failing in their governance, the report found.
Miners believe in critical future of electric vehicles
State of Play founder and chair, Graeme Stanway, says that the industry conversation has started to shift according to the report. “A number of companies are realising the critical pivot towards electric vehicles on mine sites.”
Chris Griffith, CEO of Gold Fields, one of the world’s largest gold mining companies, notes that “the benefits of electric vehicles extend beyond emission reductions. They also have significant safety benefits, as the number of accidents is likely to decline, and health advantages, particularly in underground mines, as diesel particulates will be almost eliminated.”
The electrification of underground mining vehicles places Australia at the centre of mining’s global push to decarbonise. “Early adoption could usher in a new era of Australian electric car manufacturing led by mining”, according to Stanway.
“Zero carbon mining will reinforce Australia’s commodity competitiveness in a green world. Electric vehicle supporters are the most progressive underground miners in the world, committing to convert thousands of electric vehicles across the industry.
Addressing this issue is critical, not only from a legal or health perspective, but also for financial reasons. Investors’ focus on socially responsible investing (ESG) has accelerated since the beginning of covid-19 and major global funds such as BlackRock now have dedicated ESG portfolios.