Mining accidents lead to ‘alarming’ increase in worker deaths by 31%

Mining accidents lead to ‘alarming’ increase in worker deaths by 31%

More than three dozen miners were killed in mining accidents during the past fiscal year, a 31% increase that the top mine safety official at the U.S. Department of Labor called “alarming.”

Electrocution, suffocation and drowning led to the deaths of some of the 42 miners in fiscal year 2023, according to a recent government report. The deaths in mines that extract coal, metals and gravel are the largest in nearly a decade for an industry that has seen an influx of new employees.

“I don’t think there’s just one thing driving this,” Christopher Williamson, head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said in an interview. “There are a number of issues and it is a culmination of all of those things.”

Lack of work experience could be a factor, Williamson said. The number of miners grew about 3% in fiscal year 2023 to 321,400, according to agency data.

The jump in deaths also coincided with MSHA’s enforcement efforts for all mining hazards, returning to higher levels seen before the Covid-19 pandemic, agency data showed. The agency issued 94,494 citations and orders in fiscal year 2023, an increase of 10% from fiscal year 2022 and the largest since 2019. Fines assessed rose 15% from the previous year to $62.8 million.

“This is not a problem you can only solve through implementation,” Williamson said, noting the need for more worker training.

He said upcoming rulemaking to enhance safety for workers who use large machinery or drive vehicles on the mine surface will also be a “key tool moving forward.”

INTERACTIVE MAP: Machinery-related deaths were more common in fiscal year 2023.

Experience matters

The increase in deaths was the result of accidents in metal and non-metallic mines where coal is not mined. This category is broad – from gold and silver mines to gravel pits.

Non-coal miners accounted for 32 deaths in fiscal year 2023, 12 more than the previous year. Deaths among coal miners fell to 10 from 12 in the same time frame.

Five workers died during their first week at their mine, including two deaths on the first day, according to MSHA. Another seven deaths occurred among miners who had been working in their mine for about a year or two.

As for overall mining experience, six of the miners had been in the industry for about one year or less, and three had about two years of experience, the agency said.

Veteran miners have retired during the COVID-19 pandemic and “the workforce has changed dramatically,” said Erin Bates, communications director for the United Mine Workers of America, which primarily represents coal miners.

As the number of new workers rises, mine operators need to ensure workers receive training on their tasks and equipment, and to identify and correct potential mine hazards, Williamson said.

Miners need to raise safety concerns with supervisors and MSHA. “It’s really important for them to speak up,” Williamson said.

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INTERACTIVE GRAPH: Mining deaths trend toward 10-year high.

Put the rules in sight

One of the most common causes of death was contact with machinery, resulting in 15 deaths. Among the cases were a worker who was struck by a heavy rock crusher component when a temporary weld failed, a steel water pipe broke and struck a worker who was dismantling the pipe, and multiple examples of bulldozer operators being fired when their equipment slipped or collapsed. slope.

Ten deaths were caused by accidents with vehicles transporting materials, known as mechanized transport in mining terminology. The accidents included the death of a driver when his truck hit a barrier and overturned, a miner crashing into part of a conveyor belt that broke, and a miner being crushed by rocks thrown into a hopper he was working in.

MSHA is close to issuing a final powered transportation accident prevention rule (RIN:1219-AB91).

The rule is expected to require mine operators to establish written safety programs for mobile equipment and powered transportation equipment used in surface mines, such as rock quarries and above-ground areas of coal mines.

Williamson said implementing the rule would be a way to focus industry attention on the risks posed by moving vehicles and large machinery.

Representatives of the National Mining Association And the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, When asked to discuss the increase in deaths, they pointed to their safety efforts.

“The U.S. mining industry has taken voluntary steps to accelerate the pace of improvement in mine safety by implementing best practices that encourage a culture of safety,” said Ashley Burke, senior vice president of communications for the Mining Association.

Burke pointed to CORESafety, an initiative that includes a five-year program for individual mines to reduce their infection rates by 50% and zero fatalities.

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