Mine Safety: Still room for improvement

Setting aside the matter of job security — if there are fewer miners working, fewer of them will be killed on the job, it has never been a safer time to be a miner in the United States. According to U.S. Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration numbers, fewer miners were killed on the job in 2016 than have ever been recorded. There were 25 miners killed in work-related accidents.

“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 A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

But of those 25 deaths, nine were in coal mines. West Virginia doubled the next highest total with four coal mining deaths. (The others were in Kentucky, Alabama, Illinois and Pennsylvania.) In other words, 44 percent of coal mining deaths and 16 percent of total mining deaths in 2016 occurred in the Mountain State. No other state had more than two fatalities.

Though West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch disaster in 2010 can in many ways be credited with inspiring this new era of mine safety and vigilance, our state’s coal mines are still the most dangerous in the country.

“MSHA has encouraged mine operators to put effective safety and health programs in place that address the specific conditions and hazards; 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 to miners; and properly train their miners on hazards and conditions that could cause injury, illness or death as they perform their duties,” MSHA said in a news release accompanying its figures.

Enforcement and personal responsibility — on the part of owners, inspectors, managers and the miners themselves — are essential parts of that equation.

West Virginians tend to give of themselves at a higher percentage than any other state — whether it be volunteering, charitable giving, military service, or working in the coal mines that power much of this country. It is a shame neither government agencies nor the men and women on and under the ground can find a way to prevent that from meaning they give everything.


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