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U.S. official says mining safer following 2010 explosion

07 February 2012

Assistant Secretary of Labor Joseph A. Main said at a recent meeting that he believes mining is safer in the U.S. today thanks to changes made in the industry following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in April 2010.

29 people were killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine in April 2010 after methane and coal dust explosions
29 people were killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine in April 2010 after methane and coal dust explosions

Main told employees of the West Virginia Coal Association's 39th Annual Mining Symposium in Charleston, W.Va., that violations per inspection are down 11 percent since April 2010 and significant and substantial violation rates have decreased by 38 percent.

According to the Department of Labor, since the Upper Big Branch Mine incident, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has conducted 387 impact inspections and has issued 7,655 citations and safeguards. 49 percent of the violations found in the 14,000 mines MSHA has inspected were discovered at underground coal mines, though this type of mine accounts for only 5 percent of the mines inspected.

37 miners died in work-related accidents in 2011, the second lowest number since statistics were recorded. 2009 saw the lowest number, with 34 -- 18 of which were in coal mining. In 1977, the first year of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, 273 miners died.

Of the 37 mining deaths in 2011, Main reported, 12 occurred at surface coal mines, 11 at surface metal/nonmental mines, nine at underground coal mines and five at underground metal/ nonmetal mines. Kentucky had the most mining deaths, with eight in 2011, followed by six in West Virginia. The leading cause of fatal mining accidents in 2011 was machinery.

Assistant Secretary of Labor Joseph A. Main believes mining is safer in the U.S. today thanks to changes made in the industry following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine
Assistant Secretary of Labor Joseph A. Main believes mining is safer in the U.S. today thanks to changes made in the industry following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine

During Main's tenure with MSHA -- he was appointed to the administration just months before the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion -- a number of new initiatives have been instituted, he told the group. Those initiatives include "rules to live by" focusing on common mining deaths and the standards cited in mining death investigations, catastrophic accidents and safety standards chosen because violations have been cited as contributing to at least five mining accidents and at least five deaths over a 10-year period. Other initiatives include pre-assessment conferencing, the attempt to relieve backlog, regulatory reforms and consistency in inspections.

According to the Department of Labor, 29 people were killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine in April 2010 after a methane explosion which then caused a coal dust explosion. The Governor's Independent Investigation Panel reported that the mine operator, Massey Energy, "failed to properly examine the mine and fix hazards and violations; control the accumulation of coal dust in the mine by adequately rock dusting; maintain water spray systems on the longwall cutting shearer; submit an effective mine ventilation plan; and comply with approved plans."


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