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The mining industry contains five main industry segments, which are defined by the resources they produce: petroleum and natural gas, coal, metal ores, nonmetallic minerals, and related support activities. Uses of mined materials include coal, oil, and gas for energy, copper for wiring, gold for satellites and electronic components, stone and gravel for construction of roads and buildings, and a variety of other minerals used in jewelry and as ingredients in medicines and household products. The mining industry provides the foundation for local economies in some regions.
Miners extract natural resources and find new mineral deposits. Sophisticated equipment and advanced computer technology have revolutionized mineral exploration and have increased production, both on land and at sea. Many mines nowadays operate with computer-controlled lasers and robotics. However, most mine workers are still subject to rugged outdoor work, loud noises, lifting heavy objects, standing for long periods, stooping or crawling in confined spaces, and getting dirty. Mines can be dangerous due to cave-ins, mine fires, explosions, exposure to harmful gases, or lung disease from dust inhalation.
Surface mining typically uses strip mining or open-pit mining techniques. These mines are huge trenches or holes in the ground that are mined by blasting rock with explosives, scooping it up with power shovels, and carrying out the broken up material in trucks. Underground mining is used when rich veins of mineral deposits lie below the surface of the earth. Coal mines are rarely more than a few hundred feet underground, while gold mines can be over a mile below the surface. In underground mining, workers use drills, hydraulic jacks, and explosives. For oil and gas extraction, tower-like steel structures called derricks drill deep into the earth.
The nonmetallic mineral mining and quarrying industry produces crushed stone, sand, and gravel for use in construction of roads and buildings. Some high-quality stone, such as marble and certain types of granite, is quarried in large blocks and used as a building material by itself. Other important minerals produced are clays for ceramics, water filtration, and cement making; gypsum, the primary material used in wallboard; salt, used in foodstuffs and as an ice remover; phosphate, for use in fertilizers; and sulfur, the main component of sulfuric acid.
Work schedules in the mining industry can vary widely. Some sites operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This creates the opportunity for some mining workers to work long shifts several days in a row, and then have several days off. The remote location of some sites, such as offshore oil rigs, requires some workers to actually live onsite for weeks at a time, followed by an extended leave period onshore. Working overtime is common; the average work week for a mine worker is 45.3 hours.
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