This week, my agency, the department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, released the final mining data for 2012, which include mine inspections, violations, number of mines and miners, and injury and fatality rates. Last year’s numbers represent the overall lowest death and injury rates in the history of U.S. mining.
While one death is too many, and more can be done to reduce injuries, it is important to take a moment and acknowledge progress towards those goals. These improvements are the result of the work and dedication of all in the mining community, including MSHA, mine operators, miners and their representatives, and others.
Thirty-six miners, five of whom were contractors, died on the job in 2012. This is the second-lowest number of total fatalities, and the number of contractor fatalities is the lowest since we began collecting contractor data in 1983.
In coal mining, 20 miners died in on-the-job accidents, one fewer than 2011. The fatality rate was .0159 deaths per 200,000 hours worked, also the second lowest ever recorded. The rate of reported injuries was 3.16 per 200,000 hours worked, the lowest injury rate ever recorded in coal mining.
In the metal and nonmetal mining industries there was a record low fatality rate of .0079 deaths per 200,000 hours worked. Sixteen miners died in on-the-job accidents, equaling the record low set in 2011. The reported injury rate of 2.19 per 200,000 hours worked was also a record low.
The coal mining industry saw some decrease in the number of mines and in coal production, although the number of coal miners was still the second-highest for any year since 1994. The number of metal and nonmetal mines remained steady but those mines saw an increase in the number of miners. So while the total number of mines in the U.S. was slightly lower in 2012 (14,093) than in 2011 (14,176), the number of miners employed in the mining industry went up from 381,209 to 387,878.
The data also show that compliance with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 and regulations continued to improve in 2012. The number of citations and orders MSHA issued to coal mine operators declined by 15 percent, and by 5 percent for metal and nonmetal mines. Overall, the number of citations and orders fell 11 percent, from 156,802 in 2011 to 139,770 in 2012. As a result, penalties for violations dropped from $160.8 million in 2011 to $120.5 million in 2012.
While encouraging, these numbers also serve as a reminder of the work that remains. We at MSHA will continue to seek the improved safety and health of our nation’s miners so they can go home to their families free of injury or illness at the end of every shift.
Joseph Main is the assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.