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From the Assistant Secretary's Desk

Joseph A. Main - Assistant Secretary of Labor  for Mine Safety and Health While 2010 will be remembered for the explosion that killed 29 men at the Upper Big Branch mine, we must remember that 42 additional miners' lives also ended in tragedy last year. We must honor these miners by increasing our efforts to ensure safe and healthy mining workplaces for our nation's miners.

In 2010, 19 coal miners in addition to the 29 who lost their lives at the Upper Big Branch mine were killed in mining accidents. Twenty-three miners in the metal and nonmetal mining industry also died in mining accidents — 45 percent were contractors. Not including the Upper Big Branch-related deaths, it appears that more than half of the 42 additional miners died in accidents involving violations of the Rules to Live By standards. In a look back over the past 10 years and excluding Upper Big Branch, these same types of fatal accidents have occurred. We must take the lessons to be learned by these fatal accidents and act on them to prevent additional fatalities.

MSHA's Fatal Investigation reports on these fatalities are available at http://www.msha.gov/fatals/fab.htm after they are completed.

The causes of the fatal accidents are as follows:

Seven metal and nonmetal miners are dead because they were involved in powered haulage accidents. Four surface coal-mine truck drivers were killed in powered haulage accidents when they lost control of their trucks and either struck another truck, turned over their trucks, or a truck went through a berm and over a highwall.

Six coal miners were killed working in close proximity to mining or haulage equipment.

Roof falls and rib rolls crushed 6 coal miners and 2 metal and nonmetal miners.

Six metal and nonmetal miners were killed when they were struck by falling material and two coal miners are dead because they were struck-by moving or falling objects.

Three metal and nonmetal miners died in machinery accidents.

One coal miner lost his life in an explosion or fire. One metal and nonmetal miner lost his life due to an exploding vessel and another from blasting; one metal and nonmetal miner died in a fall, another drowned, and one was electrocuted.

Each life lost is a tragedy for a family, a mining operation, and a community.

Fatalities are not inevitable in mining. They can be prevented, and we must take action now to prevent additional fatalities. Please review MSHA's analyses of the 2010 fatalities in coal mines and 2010 fatalities in metal and nonmetal mines. These analyses contain details on the fatalities, best practices on how to prevent them, and printable posters for your operation.

First and foremost, mine operators must take responsibility for the health and safety conditions in their mines to prevent these tragedies. Congress explicitly stated in the findings and purpose of the federal Mine Safety and Health Act that "deaths and serious injuries from unsafe and unhealthful conditions and practices in the coal or other mines cause grief and suffering to the miners and to their families — "Congress clearly sought to end this grief and suffering. That Mine Act also makes clear that mine operators are responsible for maintaining safe and healthful workplaces in compliance with the laws, rules and regulations designed to improve mine safety and health in this country. That Mine Act obligates mine operators to, among other things, examine mines to find and fix conditions that could harm miners. The law is clear that operators must take ownership of safety and health at their mines.

The importance and value of effective safety and health management programs cannot be overstated. Effective safety and health management programs save lives. A thorough, systematic review of all tasks and equipment to identify hazards is the foundation of a well-designed safety and health management program. Modify equipment, processes, work procedures and management systems to eliminate or control identified hazards. Operators and contractors should create effective safety and health management programs, ensure that they are implemented, and periodically review, evaluate, and update them. If an accident or near miss does occur, find out why and act to prevent recurrence. If changes to equipment, materials or work processes introduce new risks into the mine environment, they must be addressed immediately.

Conducting workplace examinations before beginning a shift and during a shift — every shift — can prevent deaths by finding and fixing safety and health hazards. All required workplace examinations must be performed and identified problems resolved to protect workers.

Effective and appropriate training will help ensure that miners recognize and understand hazards and how to control or eliminate them.

Miners deserve a safe and healthy workplace and the right to go home to their families and loved ones safe and well at the end of every shift, every day. We must all work together to make that happen.