Faced with profit, the life of a mine worker is not worth much.

Back in 1545 it was worth just nothing.

This was the year where the city Potosi was founded, and where the most fabulous silver mine of all times opened. The Cerro Rico, which towers above the city, was a mountain of almost pure silver. The concentration of the noble metal in the ore was an unbelievable 94%. A treasure so fabulous erased the last scruples of the Conquistadors. The first mine workers were Indians, hired by force, without any salary. The miners were locked in the mine for six months without ever seeing daylight.

Then, one day a brave monk managed to convince the Spaniards that the Indians had souls too. So these had to find their cheap manpower elsewhere. They found what they needed in Africa because at that time black people did not yet have a soul for the good catholic Spaniards. Then they imported thousands of slaves from Africa, whose turn it was now to die in the mines. Apparently about 6 million mine workers died during the 230 years that the mine filled the safes of the imperial crown, which in turn squandered this fortune without measure. Other sources even speak of 8 million dead.

When the Spaniards finally returned back home, the new Bolivian government took over the management of the mine. Conditions remained as appalling as before, with the only difference that the workers earned a small salary now. Meanwhile, the Cerro Rico gave everything he had; its ores contained only 4% of silver. The mountain even shrunk by a few hundred meters. In the boom days, there were up to 10,000 galleries and thousands of entries. The mountain is of volcanic origin, and, with the exception of coal, all minerals can be found here. So, when the quality of silver ore became less and less, the exploitation of tin started. When the mine finally was not profitable anymore, the government withdrew from the exploitation, and today it is the miners themselves who took over. Grouped into cooperatives, some 15,000 modern day slaves try to squeeze the last remnants of wealth from the Cerro Rico. Despite ridiculously low salaries, they produce tin at a price that is the double of the market value. After the Spaniards and the Bolivian government, now the mine workers exploit themselves.
The conditions of work are still the same. The miners buy their clothes, tools and dynamite themselves from their meager salaries. Working 8 to 10 hours a day, they improve their skills and endurance by chewing coca leaves and drinking alcohol at 98 °. Before beginning their work, they pay a visit to the Tio. As their live is underground, this is as well the field of forces from below. The Tio is the devil, but it is him protects the mine since 350 years. The miners light up a cigarette and put it in the mouth of El Tio. If the cigarette continues to smoke, is a good sign, if not .... well, they go to work anyway. With the exception of the dynamite, the extraction technique today is the same as it was 350 years ago. The life expectancy of a minor is 45 years and only a few years ago, the first minor in the history of the mine managed to reach the retirement age.

I spent a few hours in these galleries where millions of miserable miners died. During half a day, bent over, coughing, walking in the mud, wading in the water, I walked and sometimes crawled the galleries, watching the miners at work, talking to them, asking questions about their life. The youngest amongst them, Jorge, was just placing dynamite. He is only 15 years and works in the mine since two years. I saw mine bars, picks, shovels and dynamite, but I have not seen a single pneumatic drill.
But apparently  there are a few.