Recognizing Real Progress

U.S. mining deaths fell from an average of 96 to 45 per year during the first half of this decade, MSHA chief Joe Main said.

Joe Main, head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, gave a speech in late January in which he summarized how much mine safety in the United States has improved during the past five years. Speaking at the West Virginia Coal Association's 42nd Annual Mining Symposium in Charleston, W.Va., he said mining deaths fell from an average of 96 to 45 per year during the first half of this decade, and that 16 coal miners died on the job during 2014, which was the lowest number ever recorded for the industry in the United States.

Main said compliance also has improved, with total citations and orders issued to coal mine operators falling from more than 96,000 in 2010 to 62,828 in 2014. Levels of respirable coal mine dust in underground coal mines have fallen to new lows since 2009, when MSHA launched its End Black Lung—Act Now campaign, he said, and he touted the benefits of recently enacted rules to prevent coal dust explosions and require proximity detection devices on continuous mining machines in underground coal mines.

He said the backlog of contested violations by mine operators has plunged, from 89,000 in 2010 to 27,500 in November 2014.

One area of concern he cited is fatalities at metal and nonmetal mines, which rose to 25 last year. On Jan. 30, MSHA posted a PDF document summarizing its 37 fatality investigations at metal and nonmetal mines from October 2013 to January 2015. In basic charts, it showed the highest number of fatalities involved mine employees who had more than 15 years' experience at their mine. MSHA's list of root causes in these fatal injuries will sound familiar to every safety professional: failing to provide training, to de-energize and lock out machinery, to conduct pre-operational checks, to maintain mobile equipment, and to provide and wear PPE.

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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