According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, 2011 had the second-lowest number of mining deaths since statistics were first recorded in 1910. Earlier this month, MSHA released preliminary data on fatalities in the mining industry for the 2011 calendar year, and the administration published additional data on the fatalities this week. But despite declining fatality numbers, attention to effective safety management is the only way to reach new milestones.
“Mining deaths are preventable,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “The year that the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 passed, 273 miners died and, since that time, fatality numbers have steadily declined. In order to prevent mine deaths, operators must have in place effective safety and health management programs that are constantly evaluated, find-and-fix programs to identify and eliminate mine hazards, and training for all mining personnel. It takes the entire mining community to continue to reach new milestones in health and safety. While fewer miners are dying on the job, we can never alter our focus because, as we know, things can change in a moment. Miners need the reassurance that they will return home safe and healthy after each shift.”
The data showed 37 miners died on the job at mines in the U.S. There were 21 coal mining and 16 metal/nonmetal mining fatalities last year, compared with 48 and 23, respectively, in 2010. Of the 37 fatalities reported, 12 occurred at surface coal mines, 11 at surface metal/nonmetal mines, nine at underground coal mines and five at underground metal/nonmetal mines. Nine workers died in accidents involving machinery — six in coal mines and three in metal/nonmetal mines — making it the leading cause of fatal mining accidents.
This week’s 2011 Metal/Nonmetal Fatal Accident Review provided some insight about the recorded fatalities, but we found MSHA’s list of root causes for the fatalities to be most interesting.
Root Causes for Mining Fatalities
Failure to conduct examinations
No risk assessment conducted
Inadequate policies, procedures and controls
Procedures not followed or monitored
Personal protective equipment not used
Did not conduct pre-operation checks
Equipment not maintained
A number of large coal producing states experienced zero mine fatalities last year, including Alabama, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Utah. Kentucky had the most mining deaths, followed by West Virginia and Ohio. You can see some interesting differences from state to state, covering the last few years, in this chart showing MSHA data.
Mining Fatalities by State by Calendar Year