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Mine Safety: Abandoned Mines

As a miner you want to not only avoid a fatality, but you want to also avoid any injuries. In the following sections we will walk through some basic mine safety and also discuss potential hazards you should be aware of.
We have been exploring abandoned mines for over a decade. In fact it’s our full-time job. We’ve never had an incident. This is because we are trained in how to navigate these mines and we have a pretty good feel for when a mine is passable and when it it is not. Occasionally we will come across a mine that we wouldn’t enter, but not very often, and usually these mines just need some shoring before they can be safely accessed and worked.

The Right Gear

Having the right gear and knowing how to use it is key. Proper gear includes an air monitor, a helmet, a head lamp and a backup light. We have a few recommendations beyond this basic list. Ultimately what you bring into a mine depends on your intent. Do you plan on surveying the mine, or are you to the point where you are ready to start working your mine.

Falls and Loose Rock

Abandoned mines do present some dangers with loose rock, and you need to be aware of your surroundings. You also have to be careful around shafts and winzes. Some tunnels have sections with false floors. In this section we will tell you what to look for.

Bad Air

Air quality is especially a concern in larger mines, especially where air doesn’t have the opportunity to circulate. Many dangerous gasses do not have a color or odor, but are nonetheless hazardous. Know what to look for.


It’s a well known fact that abandoned mines kill people. From 2001 to 2013 there have been 251 deaths in abandoned mines. So let’s pose a question, what do you think is the number one cause of death in abandoned mines? If you guessed falling down a shaft, you’re way off. The number one cause of death is drowning. Yep, swimming holes around old abandoned coal mines have resulted in 66% of abandoned mine related deaths from 2001-2013.  Talk about twisting the numbers!  So just how many people have died by falling down shafts during that time? 27 people, that’s about 2 per year. Compare that with 32 ski and snowboard related deaths during the 2013-14 season, or 25 deaths the year before. You don’t see the BLM posting Stay Out Stay Alive signs on public ski areas, so why would the BLM focus so much effort on ‘educating’ us on the danger of abandoned mines?

Danger Abandoned Mine Hazards

BLM Danger Sign

One reason is that the BLM wants to do away with mining. They want more wilderness areas and to erase our memory of days when we were allowed to work the land. The best way to do this is to destroy evidence of mining throughout the West, or to put it short – bulldoze historic mines. An obstacle for the BLM is the Antiquities Act, which makes it illegal to disturb any artifacts older than 50 years old.

The brilliant solution is to make abandoned mines the enemy. If someone dies in a mine make sure the news agencies hear about it. Put stay out stay alive signs in front of every abandoned mine. Publish all sorts of propaganda about the dangers of abandoned mines and give presentations to school kids. This strategy has worked extremely well for the BLM. They have been able to backfill and bulldoze thousands of historic mines throughout the West. They have been able to siphon millions in funding each year from the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program, which was originally intended to only reclaim old coal mines.

A result of all of this BLM propaganda is the the public has an unhealthy fear of abandoned mines. We would like to put an end to this over-hyped fear. These mines are not any more dangerous than a day of skiing or a favorite swimming hole.

The BLM signs in front of every mine should state, if you don’t know what your doing and don’t have the right equipment, or a valid reason to enter this mine then stay out stay alive. Using abandoned mines as playgrounds, or a “cool place to explore” does not constitute a good reason to enter an abandoned mine. Mines are for mining.

The advice regarding safety, found above, does not cover every danger you might encounter in a mine and is not a substitute for sound judgement. We recommend becoming as educated as you can on mine safety. The more you know the better chance you will have of enjoying your mine and extracting the ores without incident.

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