Could 2009 be coal's safest year?

AS the halfway point of 2009 draws near, the US coal industry has marked five fatalities, all above ground. However, despite the marked improvement, the data does reflect some sobering statistics.

Donna Schmidt

Of the five deaths, the last of which was on April 2, three were contractors working for mining operators. Four of the workers had less than one year of total mining experience.

Lack of experience was reflected in two other important ways. Four of the five miners had worked for less than a year at the minesites where the accidents occurred, and three had less than one years experience in their job at the time of their death.

Nearly all of the deaths occurred toward the end of the work week. Two were on a Thursday and two on a Friday.

To date, there seems to be no definite trend in the age group of those who died while working.

The two youngest were aged between 25 and 29, the oldest was 70, and the remaining two were aged between 40 and 60.

Each death occurred in a different state. The first one, in February, was in West Virginia, and the four subsequent deaths were recorded in Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana and Alabama.

Year in review

All five deaths to date in 2009 were either at surface operations or were surface fatalities associated with underground mines. The worst month was February, when three deaths were marked.

The first death on February 6 was of a 70-year-old contract truck driver in West Virginia who had eight weeks of job experience.

The accident, classified by federal officials as Powered Haulage, occurred when the truck he was driving on a coal haulage road struck an embankment at an angle, traveled 97 feet down a grade, and turned over on the road, trapping him in the vehicle.

Classified by MSHA under Handling Material, the second death took place in Illinois on February 17.

The 27-year-old contractor tractor trailer driver, who was delivering a load of lumber, was struck by falling lumber that tumbled from the trailer another worker was attempting to unload.

Just days later on February 26, a 50-year-old miner in Kentucky died in a slip and fall accident at a surface mine after falling from a step ladder.

The contractor, who was assisting other workers to install a rolling steel overhead door when the door struck the ladder, had no mining experience.

The fourth fatality was a result of a machinery accident at Louisiana lignite operation, when a dragline oiler with five years of experience was found in a pinch point between the shoe and the dragline house, where he had gone to add extra grease to the cam slide area of a walking mechanism.

The fifth death, marked April 2 under the Powered Haulage classification, was a 29-year-old rock truck driver who was pinned between the dump bed of the truck he was driving and the railing outside the operator’s cab.

The US coal mining industry marked 30 deaths in coal in 2008. In 2007, that number was 24, and the prior year the total was 47.

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