Coal Mining Deaths Rising

There is some disturbing news involving the mining industry in the United States so far this year.  The number of mining fatalities in 2017 is already outpacing last year’s total count. The Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) says deaths have already reached double digits.

Three separate accidents at different worksites bring the total number to 10 deaths this year, which includes both metal and non-metal as well as machinery incidents.

The first incident, which was the fifth fatality of 2017 in the metal and non-metal mining segment, happened on July 14th.  It involved a part-time mine employee who was moving irrigation pipe by hand. The worker was electrocuted when the pipe came in contact with high voltage transmission lines overhead.  MSHA provided the following guidelines to help prevent similar accidents from happening:

  • Before work begins, conduct a hazard assessment and examine the work area to identify and correct hazards and ensure safe distances to overhead power lines.
  • Contact the electrical utility to determine the operating voltage of the line and confirm the safe limits of approach distances.
  • Do not use electrically conductive tools or materials in situations where they may contact overhead power lines.

Another accident occurred on July 20th.  It was the sixth death in the metal and non-metal mining segment this year.  As of the same date in the previous year, there were 9 fatalities reported in in the same segment.

In this accident, a miner was driving wedges into a block of granite in an attempt to break it loose.  But, during the process, a 9-ton piece of granite fell and crushed the worker.  MSHA provided the following best practices:

  • Always conduct examinations of your work place to identify loose ground or unstable conditions before work begins. This should also be done as changing ground conditions warrant.
  • Make sure the person conducting the examination has the training and experience to recognize potential hazards.
  • Prohibit work or travel in areas where hazards from unstable ground have not been corrected.
  • Discuss work procedures and identify all hazards associated with the work to be performed, as well as the methods used to protect workers.

On July 25th, a bulldozer ran over a worker who had a reported seven years of mining experience. Employees discovered the victim lying in the bulldozer’s push path. According to the agency, the bulldozer had run over the victim and continued over the edge of an incline, coming to rest at the bottom of an embankment. MSHA recommended the following best practices:

  • Make sure persons are trained, including task-training, to understand the hazards associated with the work being performed.
  • Maintain control of mobile equipment while it is in motion.
  • Make sure equipment braking systems are in good repair and adjustment. Conduct proper maintenance on safety related systems.

Before leaving a bulldozer unattended, operators should follow manufacturer-recommended operating procedures to make sure the equipment is secured from movement. This could include disengaging the transmission, setting the parking brake, and lowering the bulldozer blade to the ground before dismounting the equipment.

  • Do not depend on hydraulic systems to hold mobile equipment stationary.
  • Establish and discuss safe work procedures before beginning work. Identify and control all hazards associated with the work to be performed and use methods to properly protect persons.
  • Do not place yourself in a position that will expose you to hazards while performing a task.

According to the agency, this was the second machinery fatality for the year, bringing the total number of coal mining deaths as of the end of July to 10 in 2017.  At the same time last year, there were just six machinery fatalities.