Mining fatalities drop to record low in 2019

By |  January 31, 2020

Logo: MSHA

There were 24 mining fatalities in the United States in 2019, according to the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA), marking the fewest annual fatalities ever recorded.

This marks the fifth year in MSHA’s 43-year history that mining fatalities were below 30.

According to MSHA, the agency is still reviewing two cases of possible chargeable fatalities which, if added, would make the 2019 total the second-lowest number of fatalities on record.

“The low number of mining deaths last year demonstrates that mine operators have become more proactive in eliminating safety hazards, but I believe we can be even better,” says David Zatezalo, MSHA assistant secretary. “A disproportionate number of mining deaths involved contractors, and we saw an uptick in electrocution accidents, with three deaths and another two close calls. In response, the Mine Safety & Health Administration launched a targeted compliance assistance effort, visiting thousands of mines to educate miners, operators and contractors on procedures that could prevent accidents like these.”

There were four deaths each in Kentucky and West Virginia; two each in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas; and one each in Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Vermont and Wyoming.

Following a two-year increase in both 2017 and 2018, when about half of all fatalities were due to vehicle-on-vehicle collisions, failure to use a functioning seat belt and conveyor belt accidents, MSHA launched an education campaign and initiated rulemaking. In 2019, powered haulage accidents dropped to about 25 percent of all mining fatalities.

Furthermore, MSHA compiled 147,500 samples from coal and metal/nonmetal mines in 2019 – a record high. The data collected revealed an all-time low for average concentrations of respirable dust and respirable quartz, with exposure to dust and quartz for miners with the highest risk of overexposure also registering an all-time low.

In addition, metal/nonmetal mines achieved the second-lowest average respirable dust and quartz concentrations since 2009, and also the second-lowest average elemental carbon concentration since 2009.

About 250,000 miners work in about 12,000 metal/nonmetal mines in the U.S., with about 83,000 working in around 1,000 coal mines.

In 2019, MSHA conducted 37,471 inspections at nearly 13,000 mines employing 330,000 miners, resulting in 99,663 citations and orders. MSHA inspected all underground mines at least four times in 2019, and it inspected surface mines and facilities at least twice, as required by law.

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