Chile rethinks mine safety after worker deaths and expanding sinkhole

An artisanal miner shows ore at a small copper and gold processing plant of the "Inca de Oro" (Inca gold) miners association near Copiapo city, north of Santiago, Chile, December 14, 2015. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo

Aug 10 (Reuters) - Chile is taking another look at health in safety in its mines after two workers died on a mining construction project in July and a giant sinkhole more recently opened up near a copper mine.

Chile President Gabriel Boric said on Wednesday he wants to ratify an International Labor Organization (ILO) convention on health and safety in mines. The rules were issued in 1995 and first adopted by Botswana, Finland, Spain and Sweden. Brazil adopted the rules, known as convention 176, in 2006 and Peru in 2008.

Trade associations and legislators have requested government support for convention 176, which includes guarantees for workers, while requiring the state to adopt certain legislative standards.

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"Although accident rates have decreased in the last 10 years, we still have a lot to do," Boric said during a speech commemorating Chile's Miner Day.

The president said that there were 20 accidental deaths in the mining industry last year and wants to reach a goal of zero.

In July, two workers died in separate accidents at different construction projects for state-owned Codelco (CODEL.UL), the world's largest copper producer. read more

Chile's mining regulator Sernageomin found "deficiencies" in both cases, noting that the deaths could have been prevented, bringing attention to compliance with industry safety standards in Chile, the world's No.1 copper producer.

Ratifying the convention would mean stricter safety measures, more government oversight and allow workers to file lawsuits to the ILO.

Boric also mentioned the recent sinkhole that occurred near a copper mine in northern Chile that is still being investigated. read more

"What if that sinkhole happened in a town? What if it happened in a work site?" Boric said. "What would we be lamenting today? It could perfectly have happened."

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Report by Fabián Andrés Cambero; Writing by Alexander Villegas; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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