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News Extra - MSHA says US coal mining deaths now at historic low

23 January 2015

Preliminary data released in early January by the US Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) indicates that 40 miners died in work-related accidents at the nation’s mines in 2014, two fewer than in the previous year. Coal mining deaths dropped from 20 in 2013 to 16 in 2014, the lowest annual number of coal mining deaths ever recorded in the United States. The previous record low was 18 in 2009. 

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While the numbers of coal mines and miners have recently declined, the number of deaths in 2014 is about half what the industry experienced in the early 2000s, when the numbers of working coal miners were at comparable levels.

A total of 24 deaths occurred in metal/non-metal mines last year, an increase from 22 deaths in 2013.

The most common causes of mining accidents in 2014 involved powered haulage and machinery; five powered haulage and five machinery related deaths occurred in coal mines, and powered haulage accounted for eight deaths in metal/non-metal mining. Powered haulage accidents involve equipment used to transport people, materials or supplies, and machinery accidents are associated with the action or motion of machinery or failure of component parts.

“Mining deaths are preventable, and those that occurred in 2014 are no exception,” said Joseph A. Main, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. “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 non-metal industry, makes clear the need to do more to protect our nation’s miners.”

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

Among the measures MSHA has undertaken to prevent mining deaths are increasing surveillance and strategic enforcement through impact inspections at mines with troubling compliance histories; enhancing pattern of violations actions at mines with chronic violation histories; implementing special initiatives, such as ‘Rules to Live By’, which focuses 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.

In late November, MSHA said that federal inspectors issued 127 citations and six orders during special impact inspections conducted at 12 coal mines in October.

The monthly inspections, which began in April 2010 after the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine which killed 29, involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns.

Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 835 impact inspections and issued 13,267 citations, 1,200 orders and 55 safeguards.

Total deaths in all types of US mining, which had averaged 1,500 or more per year during earlier decades, decreased on average during the 1990s to under 100 per year, and reached historic lows of 35 total deaths in 2009 and 2012. Average annual injuries to miners in all segments of the mining industry have also decreased steadily.

With each passing decade, the annual rates of mining deaths and injuries (measuring numbers of deaths and injuries against hours worked) have also declined, according to MSHA.

The rate of coal mining deaths decreased from about .2000 fatalities per 200,000 hours worked by miners (or one death per million production hours) in 1970 to about .0587 fatalities in 1980.  It further dropped to about .0425 in 1990, then dropped again to about .0393 fatalities in 2000. 

The metal/non-metal mining death rate per 200,000 employee hours decreased from about 0.620 fatalities in 1970 to about .0381 fatalities in 1980.  It further dropped to about .0261 in 1990, then dropped again to about .0218 fatalities in 2000. 

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