Year in review: coal fatalities by the numbers

THE US coal industry made significant safety strides in 2011, logging the second-lowest number of fatalities for a calendar year since federal regulators began keeping records more than 100 years ago. International Longwall News looks at the 21 deaths from this past year and some of the trends which have emerged from the facts and figures.
Year in review: coal fatalities by the numbers Year in review: coal fatalities by the numbers Year in review: coal fatalities by the numbers Year in review: coal fatalities by the numbers Year in review: coal fatalities by the numbers


Donna Schmidt

Of the total deaths, there was a nearly equal split – 10 and 11, respectively – between those fatalities which occurred underground versus at the surface, according to preliminary federal data. The highest age range classification was ages 46-50, where five deaths were recorded. Three of those killed, unfortunately, were in the youngest age group between the ages of 18 and 25.

Experience, or lack thereof, is often reflected in end-of-year statistics for coal deaths, and 2011 was no different; in fact, it was among the most disturbing trends of the year. A staggering eight of the 21 killed on the job had less than a year of experience at their home mine, and another four had less than two years at their location.

Conversely, of those individuals with more than a decade in their home mines, two fatalities were recorded.

Looking at overall mining experience, the picture was reversed, as 11 of the miners killed had more than 10 years of total industry background. Second in the rankings, at three deaths in 2011, were workers possessing less than two years of experience.

US winters are typically cause for greater caution at all mining sites, and with changing conditions and increased hazards the season sometimes can reflect a higher concentration of fatal accidents. In 2011, however, the most coal miners were killed in October, when four lost their lives, followed by June and July each with three.

Day shift workers were the victims in a staggering 13 of the 21 fatalities, while five worked the evening shift and three were on the owl shift. The most deaths, six, occurred on a Monday, and five each were recorded on Wednesday and Friday.

Finally, the industry and federal regulators often examine the classifications of fatal accidents to determine needs for enhanced training, best practices development, and an increased focus for overall safety.

In 2011, the most deaths were the result of machinery incidents and fall of rib or highwall, with six reported under each type. Five resulted from powered haulage accidents, and one each were logged under fall of roof, electrical, slip/fall, and sliding/falling material.

The lowest number of coal fatalities, 18, was achieved in 2008. By comparison, the highest number of deaths in the last 22 years was recorded in 1981, when 153 coal miners lost their lives while on the job.

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