These photos show some of the most extreme working conditions in the world, from inside an active volcano to a deadly mine

Hugh BrownA miner in Bolivia’s Cerro Rico silver mines, where millions have died since the 1500s.

Photographer Hugh Brown has spent the past eight years documenting some of the most dangerous working conditions on the planet.

His work for The Cruellest Earth Project has so far taken him to live volcanoes, illegal mines deep underground, and one of the world’s biggest mountain ranges to capture the conditions in which more than 30 million people work for less than $US1 a day.

Many of them risk their lives to collect resources like coal, silver, gems, and copper. They’re also forced to endure harsh working conditions including environmental degradation, people trafficking, and organised crime, Brown told Business Insider.

“The story of these people – some of the poorest and hardest-working on the planet – needs to be told,” he said.

Here’s what of the world’s most dangerous working conditions look like.


1. Sulphur miners in Indonesia work inside an active volcano, where they carry around 154-pound loads a half mile out of the volcano, and then two more miles down the mountain to a weigh station.

Hugh Brown

Sulphur particles adorn the eyes and face of this miner in this 2012 photo. “These men were amongst the strongest men that I have ever seen,” Brown said.

Hugh Brown

This miner is chewing on his scarf to prevent ingesting sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide as he chisels chunks of sulphur.

Hugh Brown

Each miner carried an average of two loads a day, and was paid around around $US0.09 per kilogram carried.

Hugh Brown

2. In Pakistan’s Karakorum Range, illegal gem miners work at some of the highest levels for miners in the world. This mine, captured in 2015, is located over 16,000 feet above sea level.

Hugh Brown

The gem mining season here lasts just three months. The risk of avalanches and rock slides is too great during the rest of the year, and a nearby spring freezing means that water is all but absent.

Hugh Brown

Many miners here work underground, where they face the threat of rock falling on their heads, Brown said.

Hugh Brown

In this photo, a meat vendor brings goats to supply to the gem miners. Because of the high altitude, all the supplies and equipment must be brought in from the villages and valley below.

Hugh Brown

Here miners live in stone huts for the duration of their three-month mining season. This photo shows gem miners relaxing at the end of their day.

Hugh Brown

3. Many illegal coal miners in India are from the country’s Adivasi indigenous people. The rapid growth of the industry and India’s economy has seen many Advasis forced off their traditional land, where they have hunted and cropped for centuries.

Hugh Brown

Many of these indigenous people “have been driven to making a living from the very mineral that has brought them almost to their knees,” Brown said.

Hugh Brown

The climb out of the mine is dangerous, with a precipitous drop on one side likely to result in death. Brown captured this mine in Jharkhand in 2013.

Hugh Brown

Workers try to retrieve as many large blocks as they can during one hour in the morning when large-scale earthmoving equipment stops during a shift change.

Hugh Brown

4. Brown said that the Cerro Rico series of underground silver mines in Bolivia were “perhaps the most dangerous series of mines that I have visited thus far.” The mines are believed to be responsible for the deaths of up to eight million people since mining began there in 1545.

Hugh Brown

“The work here is incredibly dangerous,” Brown said. “Even today deaths are common. When I was there around three to five miners per month were dying.”

Hugh Brown

“Everyone that I spoke with had lost family members and friends to work on that mountain,” Brown said. “Everyone.” In this 2016 photo, a miner chisels out holes for dynamite.

Hugh Brown

5. This artisanal gold site in Burkina Faso was home to around 10,000 people when Brown visited in 2010. “In this part of Africa, extraordinary gold rushes can appear out of nowhere and then disappear just as quickly as other sites are discovered,” Brown said. “Hours are long. Work is dangerous. And many people die.”

Hugh Brown

While these locations can be home to slavery, extremism and organised crime, they also “provide unique upward mobility pathways for people to move from extreme poverty and into more skilled vocations.”

Hugh Brown

6. Sand divers in Cameroon retrieve around 1.7 tonnes of sand each in a roughly three-hour shift. “The work was brutal and dangerous and the miners dived around the low tide.” Deaths occurred during Brown’s time there in 2017, including from drowning, bites from venomous snakes, the ingestion of sand and being knocked out after hitting the hull of the boat.

Hugh Brown with the support the UN Development Program

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