A Focus on the Occupational Safety and Health of Women in MiningPosted on by
The mining industry plays an important role in the U.S. economy and supply chain, with most products derived in part or entirely from mined rocks and minerals. Active mines can be found in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands,  and include underground and surface mines operating in several different sectors, such as coal; metal; nonmetal; and stone, sand, and gravel. Women make up 10-17% of the mining workforce and have been underrepresented in occupational safety and health (OSH) research. A new paper from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) describes the unique OSH challenges women as miners face that may contribute to the continued under-representation of women in the mining industry.
The Mining Environment
Mining work environments can be dynamic and unpredictable, involving a variety of tools, machinery, and mobile haulage to extract and transport materials. There are many hazards in the mining environment, including dim lighting, noise, heat, respirable dust, electrical sources, diesel exhaust, rock falls, fires, and explosives. Mining is also associated with work-related psychosocial stressors, such as nonstandard shift schedules, job insecurity, and physically and mentally demanding tasks. Many mining activities have high potential for severe or even fatal injury if performed incorrectly or without appropriate training or personal protective equipment (PPE). 
Women in the Mining Industry
Though rarely recognized for their contributions and participation, women have played a critical role in the global mining industry throughout history. Before the 19th century, women across Europe, South America, Asia, and beyond were responsible for critical mining activities above and below ground, including breaking ores and metals; sorting, hammering, rinsing, and moving material; and hauling or pulling sledges of coal through mine shafts.
Legal and social constraints culminating in the mid-1800s pushed women out of most mining environments. Since then, mining has been and continues to be a male-dominated industry. In 2021, there were approximately 301,240 miners employed by the U.S. mining industry (MSHA, 2021).  Recent estimates suggest that only 10%-17% (roughly 30,000 – 51,000) of those employed are women.    As a result, mining OSH research has been focused almost exclusively on the male experience with minework, which has resulted in the under-representation of women in existing OSH research.
Since around 2000, the global mining industry has focused efforts on recruiting and retaining women by engaging in initiatives to expand workforce diversity to ensure sustainability, promote positive social presence, and to address a surge in retirements.  Despite these efforts, the number of women in mining has remained roughly the same over the last 20 years. 
Addressing OSH for Women in Mining through Research and Engagement
In a paper recently published in the Journal of Women’s Health, NIOSH researchers describe the unique OSH challenges women as miners face that may contribute to the continued under-representation of women in the mining industry, including access to properly fitting PPE, reproductive issues, musculoskeletal disorders, etc. This paper also discusses how NIOSH’s Mining Program can contribute to addressing these challenges through its research program.
To better serve women miners, and to increase their recruitment and retention within the mining industry, future research should:
- Identify and better understand the OSH needs and experiences of women in mining
- Understand the effect of workplace culture and psychosocial factors on the safety, health, and well-being of women in mining
- Assess hazards and risk factors and related conditions that may uniquely impact women miners’ occupational safety, health, and well-being
The NIOSH Mining Program has a unique opportunity to address these gaps through its established Miner Health Program (MHP), given its comprehensive approach to examining miner health, emphasis on equity, and active engagement with diverse mining industry audiences. The MHP is an important mechanism that engages with the mining community to voice needs and priorities and collaboratively design, evaluate, and improve solutions related to miner health. Moreover, the MHP’s partnership network facilitates trust, creates opportunities for collaboration and innovation, and provides more effective communication channels to identify, share, and broadly disseminate promising workplace practices and solutions. Strategic planning and pursuit of research in several gap areas noted here are currently underway for improving the health and safety of women miners.
If you are a woman working in mining, what are your specific occupational safety and health concerns?
To read the complete article, visit Occupational Safety and Health of Women in Mining | Journal of Women’s Health
For more information
Brianna M. Eiter, PhD, is a Research Health Scientist and Team Lead in the NIOSH Spokane Mining Research Division.
Zoe J. Dugdale, MPH, is a Research Epidemiologist in the NIOSH Spokane Mining Research Division.
Tashina Robinson, MS, is a Research Epidemiologist in the NIOSH Spokane Mining Research Division.
Carol T. Nixon, PhD, is a Health Science Evaluator in the NIOSH Spokane Mining Research Division.
Heather Lawson, PhD, is a Physical Scientist in the NIOSH Spokane Mining Research Division.
Cara N. Halldin, PhD, is Deputy Division Director in the Spokane Mining Research Division.
Casey Stazick, BS, is a Materials Engineer in the Spokane Mining Research Division.
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