coal mineSafety and health experts from the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) said a recent visit to coal mines in Columbia gave them a sense of nostalgia -- and not in a good way.

The UMWA's Daniel Kane notes that Columbian coal mines are similar to what U.S. mines would have been like in the 1920s. In the absense of safety standards and mining laws, mine inspection systems are all but non-existent.

Airhart, Tim Baker, Dale Lydic and international safety inspector Ron Bowersox met with their union counterparts in Columbia to conduct site visits, and hold discussions with community groups and government officials. The exchange was implemented by the Solidarity Center with funding provided by the U.S. Department of State.

The UMWA visitors found dust levels in at least one mine high enough to cause lung disease in miners. Exhaustion -- a known risk factor in workplace accidents -- is a common problem, due to long shifts and commutes to the mostly remote workplaces that are as long as four or five hours one way.

Instead of reducing shift hours, Columbian miners complain that their employers plan to use technology in the form of lasers that flash into the eyes of heavy-equipment operators when slowed blinking is detected.

Columbian unions representing nearly 10,000 coal miners are pushing for the adoption of improved safety standards and practices.

Click here to read more about the visit.