2015 fatality overview, avoiding injuries in the future

By |  March 16, 2016

Mining deaths were at a record low in 2015. Twenty-eight people died across the mining industry, with 17 of the deaths occurring in metal and nonmetal mines.

The decline reflects advances in safety consciousness, training and regulatory compliance. To further improve, daily awareness of accident potential is essential. A rundown of last year’s fatal accidents, provided below, should enhance miners’ awareness.

In 2015, several moving equipment accidents resulted in fatalities. One occurred when an excavator was engulfed while working a sand bank. Another excavator traveled into a water ditch, inundating the cab. Yet another accident involved a loader that was buried during removal of material from a stockpile.

Trucks were at the center of four fatal accidents. One involved an articulated haul truck that traveled into a dredge pond. In another instance, a water truck backed over an occupied portable toilet. One fatal accident occurred when the rear of a haul truck slipped in snow and hit the occupied cab of a parked truck. In addition, a tow boom hit a tow truck operator while he was operating.

Other equipment was involved in 2015 fatal accidents, as well. For example, a dredge flipped during efforts to extract a clamshell bucket from a lake bottom. In another instance, the operator of a walk-behind dimension stone saw tripped and fell 4 1/2 ft., resulting in the saw falling on him.

Other 2015 incidents

A number of other noteworthy fatal accidents occurred last year. Among them:

  • A tractor-trailer driver fell while mounting the steps of a truck cab.
  • A silo split open and engulfed an employee in sand.
  • A contract employee lost consciousness while cleaning alone inside a rail tanker.
  • A contract mechanic lost consciousness after hitting his head sometime earlier.

Except for the haul truck driver who went into the pond after four days on the job, equipment operators were experienced. The experience of many who died makes it more difficult to fathom how their accidents could have been foreseen and prevented.

The Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) investigates every fatal accident and publishes reminders of safety standards most often cited after investigations. Rules to Live By standards are more likely to be cited after accidents, whereas regular MSHA inspections often focus on conditions like missing or damaged electrical covers; unlabeled power switches; missing proof of annual verification of electrical grounds; loose, undersized or missing machine guards; housekeeping deficiencies and trip hazards; unsafe workplace access and fall hazards; uncorrected mechanical or electrical safety defects; and defective horns or backup alarms.

Rarely does an MSHA inspection or company workplace examination directly prevent a fatal moment. Accidents often occur before a person realizes what he or she has done.

Counseling, training

Supervisors know safety talks are important, but they may not fully appreciate their lifesaving value. Regular discussions help employees understand the company wants them to be safe, follow recommended procedures and seek advice.

Many deaths occur where a single employee is making safety decisions alone. By continuously emphasizing the ever-present dangers of risky decisions, supervisors buttress employee self-preservation instincts and discourage unsafe expediencies in job performance.

Supervisors appreciate the value of employee task training, but they’re often disinclined to double check competence. It is human nature for a worker to claim: “yes, I know how to do that” or “no, I don’t need more task training,” even though the employee may be uncertain. Particularly mid-job, an uncertain employee may be inclined to experiment precariously rather than ask for help.

Also, supervisors must contend with their own human nature. They are often reluctant to affirmatively quiz an employee or ask for a demonstration because they do not want to be intrusive or believe employees know more than they do. However, the supervisor’s mere expression of interest may dissuade an employee from deviating from safe procedures at a critical time in the future.


Legal editor Michael T. Heenan is an attorney at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, one of the nation’s largest labor and safety law firms. He can be reached at michael.heenan@odnss.com.

Comments are closed