Three deaths in U.S. coal mines during the first month of 2016 have caught MSHA by surprise, given the lower coal production that is happening at the same time and following the safest U.S. mining year on record.

Early 2016 Mining Deaths 'Troubling,' MSHA Chief Says

Assistant Secretary Joseph A. Main said the agency plans to ramp up enforcement, education, and outreach efforts in order to respond to the troubling number of mining fatalities to happen so far this year.

MSHA Assistant Secretary of Labor Joseph A. Main issued a statement regarding the first three coal mining deaths of 2016, saying the agency plans to ramp up enforcement, education, and outreach efforts in order to respond to the troubling number of mining fatalities to happen so far this year.

The coal industry has faced three fatalities in three separate mining accidents, the highest number of accidents to occur over this period since January 2006.

"In light of declining coal market conditions, we all need to be mindful that effective safety and health protections that safeguard our nation's coal miners need to be in place every day at every mine in the country," Main said. "All miners deserve to work their shifts and return home at the end of the day, safe and healthy. To that end, the Mine Safety and Health Administration plans to ramp up its targeted enforcement, education and outreach efforts to respond to the troubling number of mining fatalities that have occurred so far this year. Today, MSHA widely disseminated to industry stakeholders an alert on these deaths, emphasizing the need for continued vigilance in miner safety and health."

Bolstering Main's point, U.S. coal production fell by 11.9 percent in the 52-week period that ended in mid-January 2016 from the same period in 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration's latest data.

The three January 2016 deaths were:

  • Jan. 4, a 53-year-old miner was killed when he became entangled in a moving underground conveyer in West Virginia.
  • Jan. 16, a 31-year-old miner was killed when falling material pinned the victim to the mine floor in Pennsylvania.
  • Jan. 19, a 36-year-old miner was killed when he became pinned between a continuous mining machine and a coal rib in Kentucky.

The National Mining Association and MSHA recently hailed the data showing there were only 28 fatalities for all U.S. mining in 2015 -- 17 in U.S. minerals mining and 11 in coal mining, making it the safest year on record for the industry. "We're very gratified by this continued progress because it confirms the result of our commitment to make American mines the world's safest," said National Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn. "The record confirms the value of our safety initiatives and our on-going determination to return every miner home safely after every shift."

One NMA initiative that the association reports has been especially successful is the CORESafety® framework, which aims to eliminate fatalities and reduce injury by 50 percent in five years by offering a management system approach to mine safety -- an adaptable framework for operations of all sizes.

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