Record low mining deaths in 2008: MSHA

THE United States mining industry marked its lowest number of deaths ever in 2008 at 51, but powered haulage continued to be the leading cause of death, according to data released last week by the US Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Record low mining deaths in 2008: MSHA Record low mining deaths in 2008: MSHA Record low mining deaths in 2008: MSHA Record low mining deaths in 2008: MSHA Record low mining deaths in 2008: MSHA

Mine Safety and Health Administration head Richard Stickler

Donna Schmidt

In total, coal mining accidents took 29 lives, 22 died in metal/nonmetal mines and 28 worker fatalities were marked at surface operations.

The total number was four less than the previous record set in 2004, and was a 31% drop over 2007. The fatality rate for coal mining alone was the lowest since 2005.

MSHA officials noted that powered haulage was by far the leading cause of deaths in mining across the board last year, with 15 fatalities. Coal mining made up 10 of the fatalities while five were at metal/nonmetal mines.

Taking the top spots for deaths in the US were Kentucky and West Virginia, which each had eight. Utah did not have any in the first full year following the Crandall Canyon collapse that killed nine in August 2007.

Overall, according to MSHA data extending back eight years, mining fatalities have dropped 46% and the rate of injuries in that same period has also dropped steadily by 36% from an all-injury rate of 5.07 in 2000 to 3.24 last year.

MSHA acting assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health Richard Stickler said the year was a milestone in terms of safety and enforcements in many areas, as 2008 was the first time MSHA ever completed all of its mandated safety and health inspections.

Just between 2007 and 2008 in coal, regular inspections increased 12% while there was a 46% rise in inspection hours, a 33% increase in orders and citations and a notable 209% rise in assessed penalties.

Part of that progress is due to the large-scale hiring of federal mine inspectors across the entire nation. Since 2006, 260 new inspectors have come online with a net gain of 169 full-time workers. At current, there are 754 inspectors in the US in coal alone.

Also, the agency marked its first-ever issuance of a pattern of violation notice, implemented a total of eight final rulings for safety and health issues, and collected a significant amount of monetary penalties from delinquent operators.

MSHA recorded a significant jump in civil penalties as well in 2008, with 198,700 for violations versus 130,100 in 2007. During that timeframe, assessed penalties increased more than twofold from $US74.5 million in 2007 to a single-year record of $194 million last year.

In fact, according to federal data, enforcement actions over all types of mining were marked in the eight-year period logged.

There was an 80% increase between 2000 and 2008 from 3122 in the first year to 5628 last year. Accordingly, the total dollar amount assessed inflated 622% from an average $23 million per fiscal year to an average $166 million during the same period.

After defining a “flagrant violation” as part of the MINER Act of 2006, the agency placed a significant focus on them in the two years to follow.

In 2008, 74 flagrant violations were issued to mines, a staggering increase over the 15 assessed in 2007, and the violations totalled $11,474,400 and $2,588,200, respectively.

“Although these numbers demonstrate continuing improvements at our nation's mines, they also represent significant loss to the families and friends of 51 miners," said Stickler.

“We must continue to be vigilant in our efforts to bring all miners home safe and healthy at the end of every shift."

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