There were 24 mining fatalities in the United States in 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reported.
This is the fewest number of fatalities ever recorded in a year, and only the fifth year in MSHA’s 43-year history that there were 30 or fewer mining fatalities.
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. “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% of all mining deaths.
MSHA collected 147,500 samples from coal and metal/nonmetal 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/nonmetal mines achieved the second lowest average respirable dust and quartz concentrations since 2009. Metal/nonmetal 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/nonmetal mines in the United States, while 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.
According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), after the issuance of a citation or order under the Mine Act, a mine operator may within 30 days file a notice of contest with the Secretary of Labor at the Solicitor’s Office, or an operator could wait until a civil penalty is assessed. At that point, the operator has 30 days in which to file a contest and request a hearing before an administrative law judge of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.
An operator may contest all or some of the penalties listed on the civil penalty assessment by placing a check next to the contested item and stating the reasons for the contest. A copy of the contested assessment must be returned to MSHA’s Civil Penalty Compliance Office in Arlington, Va., within 30 days of the operator’s receipt.
To facilitate the settlement of cases, MSHA, in cooperation with the Office of the Solicitor, developed the Alternative Case Resolution Initiative (ACRI) in 1994. This program created the position of Conference/Litigation Representative (CLR) – typically an experienced mine inspector who is trained to represent the Secretary of Labor in contested cases, under the supervision of the Office of the Solicitor, that do not involve accidents, fatalities, or complex legal issues.
Some CLRs are authorized to represent MSHA in administrative hearings before an administrative law judge. Mine operators may also seek an informal health and safety conference at the district level following the issuance of a citation or order, and prior to assessment of a civil penalty
Go to www.msha.gov for more information.