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Chile to increase mining safety standards

After the successful rescue of the 33 miners trapped in the San Jose mine in northern Chile, President Sebastian Piñera has promised to ratify International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 176, which regulates mining safety standards.

The convention requires the state to implement adequate laws and regulations to ensure safety in the mining sector; outlines the responsibilities of private companies in the prevention of risk; and regulates the rights of workers and their representatives in the issues of health and safety.

During a televised interview with the BBC during a visit to London, Piñera stated that Chile will do "whatever is necessary to have a more secure mining industry. If we want to be a developed country, we need to develop first world standards."

The president had previously announced a complete review of safety standards in the country, not only in the mining sector, but also in other economic activities such as agriculture, forestry and the salmon industry.

"We have initiated a country effort to create a new treatment in terms of how to protect the lives, integrity, dignity and health of our workers," Piñera said during the interview.

For the mining industry, the plan includes a complete restructuring of national geology and mining service Sernageomin by separating geology and mining tasks at the entity and the creation of a specific mining regulator, which will focus on authorizing exploration and mining plans, and overseeing compliance with safety conditions, among others.

Sernageomin's budget will be also increased from the current 12bn pesos (US$24mn) to 28bn pesos for next year. Most of the new resources will be used to boost the number of supervisors at the service from the current 18 to 45, who will be able to visit every mining operation 1.5 times a year. Currently, the service's capacity is enough to visit 70% of all mining operations in the country just once a year.

Finally, a special committee was created, comprising mining engineers, geologists, safety experts and lawyers, to review current mine safety regulations. The committee will draw up a report with recommendations on what needs to be done to improve safety conditions in the industry.

The final report was expected to be ready by end-November, but Piñera has asked labour minister Camila Merino to present an initial draft by next week.
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