MSHA's Main Says 2012 Likely Safest Year Ever for U.S. Mining

His speech at the annual West Virginia Mining Symposium mentioned how sharply the industry's fatality and injury rates have fallen since the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act was enacted in 1977.

The U.S. mining industry has made great strides in safety since the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act was enacted in 1977, according to a March 7 speech by MSHA Assistant Secretary Joe Main that is posted at the agency's website. Speaking at the 40th Annual West Virginia Mining Symposium hosted by the West Virginia Coal Association in Charleston, Main discussed the recent changes in MSHA's Pattern of Violations program and other initiatives, including its "End Black Lung -- Act Now" campaign and efforts to reduce a backlog of contested cases that had reached 89,000 in January 2011 but was down to about 50,000 by Dec. 31, 2012, he said.

"Prior to the 1977 Act, on average, one miner was killed and 66 were injured each day in mining accidents. In 1977, there were 273 mining fatalities in the U.S, 139 of which occurred in coal mines. In 2012, there were 35 fatalities, 19 were in coal," Main said, according to the online transcript. "In 1977, the total all-injury rate at all mines in the U.S. was 9.55 injuries per 200,000 work hours. For coal it was 12.90. By 2011, this number had fallen by 71 % to 2.73 injuries, and in coal, by 74% to 3.38 injuries. In 1977, the fatality rate was .0645, and .0720 in coal. By 2011, it was .0114, and .0156 in coal, decreases of 82% and 78% respectively."

Based on the preliminary data, 2012 is likely to rank as the safest year yet for the U.S. industry, he said.

He noted MSHA has a rulemaking in progress to require proximity detection systems on mining machines in underground coal mines. Main said the technology is "among the best practices to prevent crushing injuries and deaths," adding, "While rulemaking on the use of proximity detection systems is underway, mine operators should be implementing proximity detectors to protect miners. A number of mine operators are already doing that. Based on information obtained by MSHA's Technical Support branch, over 250 underground machines are equipped with proximity detection systems. Alliance Resources and Consol Energy are among those companies leading the way."

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