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From the Assistant Secretary's Desk — Mid-year summary of fatal accidents

Joseph A. Main - Assistant Secretary of Labor  for Mine Safety and Health

During the first six months of 2012, 19 deaths occurred in work-related accidents in the nation's mining industry. Ten miners died in coal mining, and nine died in metal/nonmetal mining.

The ten coal mining deaths were in the following accident categories: three in Slip or Fall, two from Rib Fall, and one each in Exploding Vessels Under Pressure, Other (Drowning), Handling Materials, Machinery, and Electrical. An uncharacteristic trend identified was that five of these fatalities – three of them supervisors – occurred on five consecutive weekends. This is a particular warning flag for the mining industry.

The nine metal/nonmetal mining deaths were in the following accident categories: four in Powered Haulage accidents, two killed in Fall of Face/Rib/Highwall and one each killed in Machinery, Falling Material and Fall of Person accidents.

While this is the second lowest number of mining deaths recorded in mining mid year, we know these deaths are preventable.

MSHA has placed an analysis of the mining fatalities in the first half of 2012 on its website at http://www.msha.gov/fatals/summaries/previoussummaries.asp along with best practices to help mining operations avoid fatalities like them.

Fatalities are preventable. Many mines operate every shift of every day, year in and year out, without a fatality or a lost-time injury. Mining workplaces can and must be made safe for miners.

MSHA has taken a number of actions to identify mines with health and safety problems and initiated several outreach and enforcement initiatives, including "Rules to Live By," a fatality prevention program highlighting safety and health standards most frequently cited during fatal accident investigations. We believe those actions, along with initiatives by the mining industry, can make a positive difference. MSHA has posted more information and analysis of the fatal accidents that occurred on the MSHA website at http://www.msha.gov/fatals/summaries/previoussummaries.asp

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, with the assistance of miners, 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.

Mines need to have effective safety and health management programs in place that are constantly evaluated and implemented, effective find and fix programs to identify and eliminate mine hazards and effective training of all mining personnel.

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

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

No miner should have to die on the job just to earn a paycheck. We must all work together to ensure that does not happen. We are united in our determination that all miners go home safe and healthy at the end of each shift.

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