Paying for the Sins of the Past

Let’s be real clear on something: 29 fatalities last year in the mining industry is 29 too many. Even one occupational injury is one too many. 

Christopher J. Williamson, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health (MSHA), recently penned a letter to the mining community pointing out those 29 fatalities; remarking on an unusually deadly start to 2023; and announcing “Stand Down to Save Lives” day on May 17, encouraging everyone to join in setting aside a time during that week to give additional focus to the safety and health of our nation’s miners.

The re-emphasis on safety is commendable and welcome. Having said that, I have always wondered why the mining industry keeps paying for the sins of its past. In the early 20th century, mining conditions were deplorable; accidents and deaths were commonplace; and corporate allegiance to safety was dubious at best. MSHA was a necessary response.

That has all changed. Mining is no longer one of the top deadliest occupations in America. But yet, we still have the big stick of MSHA hammering the industry again and again.

  • According to national workplace injury and fatality statistics, it looks to me like logging and its little brother, tree trimming and pruning, are among the most deadly occupations in America. Fatal injury rates of 119.35 and 186.07, respectively. Remind me again, is there a Logging and Tree Trimming Safety and Health Administration? Didn’t think so.
  • It looks like being a farm worker is pretty deadly as well, not to mention agricultural equipment operators and farm equipment mechanics. Fatal injury rates 134.74, 49.66 and 39.97, respectively. Is there a Farming Safety and Health Administration? I Googled that, can’t find it anywhere.
  • Roofing is a pretty dangerous occupation. Despite rules requiring fall protection, most of the roofers I see working in my town aren’t tethered to anything. Fatal injury rate of 88.54. I am sure the Roofing Safety and Health Administration is on top of that. Except there isn’t one.

Yes, these industries are covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But none of them is singled out with their own agency.

If you go way down the list you’ll find Excavating and Loading Machine and Dragline Operators, Surface Mining. That fatal injury rate is 22.4. Yet mining is singled out with its own governmental overseer.

The aggregates industry is a niche of the mining industry as a whole; and the metal and coal mining parts of that usually have higher rates of injuries and fatalities, meaning aggregates taken by itself has an extremely low fatal injury rate.

There is no reason for MSHA to wield big-stick oversight of the aggregates industry anymore. The feds need to put their resources where they can prevent the most injuries and save the most lives.

Mark S. Kuhar, editor
[email protected]
(330) 722‐4081
Twitter: @editormarkkuhar

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