The US Department of Labour’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has recorded a total of 24 mining casualties in the country in 2019.
The agency reported that this figure represents the lowest number of annual fatalities ever recorded in the US, and only the fifth year that mining deaths have numbered fewer than 30 in MSHA’s 43-year history.
MSHA is still reviewing two cases of possible chargeable fatalities which, if added, would make the total in 2019 the second-lowest number of fatalities ever recorded.
The report showed four deaths each in Kentucky and West Virginia; two each in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas; and one each in Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Vermont.
US assistant secretary for mine safety and health David G. Zatezalo said: “The low number of mining deaths last year demonstrates that mine operators have become more proactive in eliminating safety hazards. But I believe we can do even better.
“A disproportionate number of mining deaths involved contractors, and we saw an uptick in electrocution accidents, with three deaths and another two close calls,” he added.
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In response to these issues, MSHA started an initiative of visiting mines to educate miners, operators, and contractors on procedures that could prevent similar accidents.
After a two-year rise in 2017 and 2018, when about half of all deaths resulted from vehicle-on-vehicle collisions, failure to use a functioning seat belt and conveyor belt accidents, MSHA also put in place a multifaceted education campaign and introduced new rules.
In 2019, the department recorded a decrease of deaths caused by powered haulage accidents to approximately 25% of all mining deaths.
MSHA data, collected from 147,500 samples, revealed an all-time low for average concentrations of respirable dust and respirable quartz in underground coal mines. The exposure to dust and quartz for miners at the highest risk of overexposure also hit an all-time low.
Metal and non-metal mines achieved the second-lowest average respirable dust and quartz concentrations since 2009.
In 2019, MSHA conducted 37,471 inspections at nearly 13,000 mines employing 330,000 miners, which resulted in 99,663 citations and orders. MSHA inspected all underground mines a minimum of four times in 2019, and it inspected surface mines and facilities at least twice, as required by US law.
Approximately 250,000 miners work in around 12,000 metal and non-metal mines in the US with approximately 83,000 working in around 1,000 coal mines.