U.S. mining fatalities drop in 2019

The 24 mining fatalities in the U.S. in 2019, represent the fewest annual fatalities every recorded, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reports. In addition, 2019 marks only the fifth year in MSHA’s 43-year history that mining fatalities were below 30. MSHA is still reviewing two cases of possible chargeable fatalities which, if added would make the total in 2019 the second lowest number of fatalities ever recorded.

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.

“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 do even better,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health David G. Zatezalo, in a press release. “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 and 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.”

After a two-year increase in 2017 and 2018, when about half of all deaths resulted from vehicle-on-vehicle collisions, failure to use a functioning seat belt, and conveyor belt accidents, MSHA responded with a multifaceted education campaign and initiated rulemaking. In 2019, the percentage of deaths caused by powered haulage accidents dropped to approximately 25 percent of all mining deaths.

MSHA collected 147,500 samples from coal and metal/non-metal mines in 2019, a record high. The data revealed an all-time low for average concentrations of respirable dust and respirable quartz in underground coal mines, and the exposure to dust and quartz for miners at the highest risk of overexposure hit all-time lows as well. Metal/non-metal mines achieved the second lowest average respirable dust and quartz concentrations since 2009. Metal/non-metal mines also achieved the second lowest average elemental carbon concentration and average total concentration since 2009.

Approximately 250,000 miners work in around 12,000 metal/non-metal mines in the U.S. and approximately 83,000 work in around 1,000 coal mines. In 2019, MSHA conducted 37,471 inspections at nearly 13,000 mines employing 330,000 miners, which resulted 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.

MSHA releases final report on machinery fatality

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) published the final report on a Nov. 16, 2019 fatality involving a contractor who stepped into the path of a bulldozer while spotting for a dump truck.

MSHA offers the following best practices to prevent these types of accidents: 

  1. Safety first. Before starting work, establish and discuss safe work procedures. Identify and control all hazards associated with the work and properly protect workers.
  2. Know where people are. Be aware of body positioning around equipment, traffic patterns, dump sites, and haul roads.
  3. Train miners and contractors on traffic controls, mobile equipment patterns, and other site-specific hazards.
  4. Stay alert. Do not place yourself in harm’s way.
  5. Communicate with mobile equipment operators and ensure they acknowledge your presence.
  6. Ensure travelways are clear before moving a vehicle or mobile equipment.
  7. Look behind you. Install “rear viewing” cameras or other collision warning systems on mobile equipment. When backing up, look over your shoulder to eliminate blind spots. When using mirrors, use all available mirrors.
  8. Wear reflective material while working around mobile equipment. Use flags, visible to equipment operators, to make miners and smaller vehicles more visible.