Working in tiny spaces 300 feet below the surface for hours on end with the possibility that millions of tonnes of earth could, at any moment, collapse on top of you. This is the reality of being a miner and it is daily life for hundreds of workers in the Jaintia Hills of India (1), a coal mine in the northeastern part of the country.
Mining has long been, and remains, one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
In the United States, where the mining industry is highly regulated, an of average 50 to 60 miners die each year. In 2010, 29 miners in Raleigh County, West Virginia were killed by a methane explosion. The fear of being trapped below the surface is always a menace, and often only the lucky survive (5, 6, 7).
In other areas of the world, mining remains unregulated, and the dangers are even greater. In East Java, Indonesia, miners work long hours as they attempt to remove large chunks of high acidic sulphur from an active volcano (3,4).
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, thousands of lives have been ripped apart by conflict over minerial deposits (9,10).
But in spite of the extreme danger, miners continue to dig. Often it is simply the need for steady work — especially in developing countries — that calls them back.