Mexico City – Mexico's independent National Human Rights Commission said Wednesday that 90 people have died since 2006 in mine accidents in the northern state of Coahuila, the country's main coal-producing region, attributing the fatalities to poor safety conditions.
"Coal mining work is far from ideal" and is not carried out "in a dignified manner or in compliance with the law" and international conventions, the commission said in a report.
The rights panel based its findings on information gathered from civic organizations and interviews conducted during different visits to mines in that state.
"Owners have not complied on numerous occasions with essential safety and hygiene measures, while actions by the Mexican government have been insufficient to guarantee miners' physical well-being," the document read.
The commission has received 17 complaints over the past six years concerning incidents at coal mines, "10 of them related to accidents in which 90 people lost their lives."
For example, four miners died on Aug. 26 in an accident at a mine located in San Juan de Sabinas, Coahuila, and operated by a unit of steelmaker Altos Hornos de Mexico.
Small coal mines known as "pocitos" (little holes), which are unlicensed and flout basic safety regulations, proliferate in Coahuila.
Workers at the "pocitos" must provide their own equipment and owners, in a bid to keep costs down, typically do not provide them with emergency exits or well-constructed tunnels.
"Instead of installing four beams they install two and they don't put roof bars on the tunnel ceilings," the rights commission said.
An accident at one "pocito" in June led to 14 deaths and sparked a round of political finger-pointing over the lack of mine inspections in the region.
The federal government accused Coahuila authorities of buying coal from small producers that failed to comply with basic industrial safety regulations.
Coahuila was the scene of one of the worst mining accidents in modern Mexican history in 2006, when an explosion at the Pasta de Conchos mine buried 65 workers.
The commission recommended that federal authorities "provide material, economic and human resources to substantially increase (mine) inspections," compile a risk registry, raise miners' awareness of their rights and provide them with tools to denounce irregularities.