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MSHA data: Mining among safest U.S. jobs

You are more likely to die financing a mine than working at one, according to Department of Labor workplace fatality statistics

According to preliminary data released by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, 25 miners died in work-related accidents in the United States during 2016. This is the lowest fatality rate for American miners ever recorded, besting the record of 29 set in 2015.

With around 330,000 American miners working in the U.S. last year, this comes to roughly 0.8 deaths per 100,000 workers, which is much lower than the 3.4 deaths across all occupations during 2014 and 2015, per the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, the mining fatality rate compares with the two safest occupational sectors reported by BLS – educational and health services (0.7 deaths per 100,000) and financial activities (0.9 deaths per 100,000).

“While these deaths show that more needs to be done to protect our nation’s miners, we have reached a new era in mine safety in the past few years,” said Joseph Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “Each year since 2009, injury rates have dropped, and the number of mining deaths and fatality rates were less than in all prior years in history except in 2010, when the Upper Big Branch mine disaster occurred.”

In 2010, a methane explosion killed 29 underground workers at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

Nine of this year’s 25 fatalities occurred in coal mines – four in West Virginia, two in Kentucky, and one each in Alabama, Illinois and Pennsylvania – the lowest such tally for coal miners on record. The balance occurred in surface metal and nonmetal mines.

Machinery and power haulage accidents led to 13, or slightly more than half, of the 2016 miners’ deaths.

There were no fatalities at underground metal mines in the U.S. during 2016, a testament to the strong safety culture that has been developed in the mining sector.

Main attributes the improved mining safety environment to a combination of strategic enforcement tools being employed by MSHA and improved compliance by the mining industry.

“We have created a new roadmap to protect our nation’s miners,” he said.

In addition to prevention, MSHA is improving and developing equipment to rescue miners when accidents do occur.

The mine safety agency demonstrated some of this new rescue equipment during a Jan. 5 presentation at the Pittsburg Research Laboratory, a federal research facility in Pennsylvania that includes an underground research mine.

MSHA demonstrated the following:

• A newly developed seismic location system, which will enable rescuers to better locate trapped miners by detecting seismic signals produced by miners pounding on the roof of the mine, and digital filtering of these signals the helps pinpoint where miners are trapped.

• A sophisticated communications and tracking system, which allows mine rescue teams underground to communicate directly with those on the surface as they coordinate rescue and recovery efforts – an improvement on the common relay system, where messages were repeated and sometimes incorrectly conveyed.

• Mine rescue robots, which can be deployed to enter mine environments deemed unsafe for rescue teams, including “a snake robot” that can explore extremely restricted areas.

With the goal of never needing to use this rescue equipment, MSHA encourages mine operators to put effective safety and health programs in place that address the specific conditions and hazards of the mine; conduct thorough examinations of the workplace to assure that the conditions and hazards leading to deaths and injuries are identified and fixed before they pose a danger; and train their miners on hazards and conditions that could cause injury, illness or death

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Publisher

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Over his more than 16 years of covering mining and mineral exploration, Shane has become renowned for his ability to report on the sector in a way that is technically sound enough to inform industry insiders while being easy to understand by a wider audience.


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