As has been a practice over the last four years, the Mine Safety and Health Administration today released a summary of U.S. mining deaths that occurred during the first quarter of 2014. From Jan. 1 to March 31, 2014, eight miners died in accidents in the nation’s mining industry – three in coal and five in metal and nonmetal mining accidents. While overall, the first quarter was in line with recent historic low numbers of mining deaths and a significant drop from the last quarter of 2013 (when 15 miners died), the metal and nonmetal sector is not following that trend.
The metal and nonmetal mining industry experienced 18 mining deaths from October 2013 through April 2014, five in April alone. This is a disturbing increase, so last week I announced MSHA would hold a summit with industry stakeholders on May 5 to address this unacceptable trend, and discuss actions to reverse it.
The 18 deaths from October 2013 to April 2014 occurred at crushed stone, sand and gravel, silver, cement, lime, gold, granite, clay and iron ore mining operations in 12 states across the country. Six were at underground mines and 12 were at surface mines. Five of the deaths were supervisors. Since announcing the summit last week, another death occurred on May 1, at a surface gypsum mine in Nevada. Although many of the deaths are still under investigation by MSHA, basic protections appear to have been lacking.
Mine operators need to assess the quality of training miners receive, including how well mine operators are examining their own work sites for hazards. These practices appear to be deficient, and MSHA will be paying close attention during mine inspections, and looking out for the types of hazards and conditions that lead to mine deaths.
These deaths are a reminder that, despite steady progress in mine safety due to the actions of MSHA and the mining industry, much more needs to be done to protect the nation’s miners.In order to prevent mine deaths, operators must have in place effective safety and health management programs that are constantly evaluated; “find-and-fix” programs to identify and eliminate mine hazards; and training for all mining personnel.
Conducting workplace examinations both prior to and during a shift – every shift – can prevent deaths when safety and health hazards are found and fixed. Workplace examinations must be performed, and the problems identified must be resolved to protect workers. Effective and appropriate training will ensure that miners recognize and understand hazards and how to control or eliminate them.
We know it takes the efforts of all of us in MSHA and the mining industry to improve mine safety and health. Miners deserve a safe and healthful workplace, and at MSHA, we are committed to doing everything we can to make that happen.
Joseph A. Main is the assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.