Coal Mining Fatalities Drop to Historic Low

By Roy Maurer Jan 12, 2015
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Coal mining deaths fell to the lowest level on record in 2014 while fatalities at metal and nonmetal mines saw a slight increase, according to preliminary data released by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

Coal mining deaths fell to 16 in 2014, down from 20 the prior year and below the previous low of 18 set in 2009. Twenty-four deaths occurred in metal and nonmetal mines last year, an increase from 22 deaths in 2013.

Among all mining operations, 40 workers died, down from 42 in 2013. The number of fatalities in 2014 is about half what the industry experienced in the early 2000s, when the number of working coal miners was at a comparable level, according to MSHA.

Of the 16 coal mining deaths last year, four occurred in West Virginia—the highest total of all the states.

The most common causes of mining accidents in 2014 involved powered haulage and machinery. Powered haulage accidents involve equipment used to transport people, materials or supplies.

Ten coal mining deaths occurred underground and six occurred at surface operations. In metal and nonmetal mining, six deaths occurred underground, and 18 occurred at surface operations.

One reason for the reduction in the number of coal mining deaths may be due to a drop in the number of workers in the industry, MSHA speculated. There were 79,400 coal-industry employees in the U.S. in 2013, down from a near-term peak of 87,500 in 2011.

“Mining deaths are preventable, and those that occurred in 2014 are no exception,” said Joseph Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, in a press release. “While MSHA and the mining industry have made a number of improvements and have been moving mine safety in the right direction, these deaths, particularly those in the metal and nonmetal industry, makes clear the need to do more to protect our nation’s miners.”

Main stressed that mine operators must “maintain effective safety and health management programs that are constantly evaluated, continue find-and-fix programs to identify and eliminate mine hazards, and provide training for all mining personnel.”

He listed several agency efforts undertaken to prevent mining deaths, including increasing surveillance and strategic enforcement through impact inspections at targeted mines, enhancing pattern-of-violations actions at mines with chronic violation histories, implementing special initiatives which focus attention on the most common causes of mining deaths, and engaging in outreach efforts with the mining community.

“These actions by MSHA, along with the efforts of the mining industry, are leading to safer and healthier mines,” Main said.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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