heavy equipment in a mine

Mining is an industry that is full of hazards. Mining consistently ranks near the top of the list for annual workplace fatalities and injuries in the United States. When most people think of mining-related injuries, they think of things like landslides, explosions and cave-ins. If you are a California miner, you should be aware of another hazard that can take decades to manifest – that of exposure to naturally occurring asbestos.

Naturally occurring asbestos

There are a few types of rocks that are commonly found in parts of California that contain asbestos. Asbestos is the name of a family of natural minerals that can be extremely harmful when inhaled.  Serpentine rock is the most common one to contain asbestos, however for example most talc rock is contaminated with asbestos.

Asbestos is best left buried underground. The danger comes from blasting, crushing, and any other activity that creates any dust. This releases asbestos fibers into the air, and anyone within a few miles will breathe it.

This is why workers in the surface mining industry need to be particularly careful to use proper safety equipment, in order to avoid breathing in these harmful fibers. Even short-term exposure to asbestos fibers in the lungs can eventually lead to a type of cancer called mesothelioma.

California safety regulations

The California State Legislature and other state agencies have taken a number of steps to help protect the safety of construction workers and miners, as these two groups are the most likely to encounter naturally occurring asbestos in California.

For example, there are Airborne Toxic Control Measures (ATCMs) in place to protect the health of miners. Among other things, these ATCMs require that employers who run mining operations ensure that the amount of asbestos fibers in the air not exceed a certain dangerous amount.

The government established these limitations to make sure that, in a typical 8-hour day, a California miner isn’t exposed to any more asbestos than is absolutely necessary to do their job. Even with all of these precautions in place, however, miners can still suffer the effects of asbestos exposure, such as mesothelioma.