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From the Assistant Secretary's Desk — Mine fatality, injury rates fell to historic low in 2011; MSHA releases 2012 third-quarter fatality summary

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

Last year I began providing the mining industry, trainers and grantees quarterly information on the types of fatal accidents that are occurring in mining and the best practices to prevent them. Below is a summary of information from the third quarter of 2012. We are also releasing recently finalized data that shows that fatality and injury rates in 2011 were the lowest ever.

During the third quarter of 2012, July 1 to September 30, 11 deaths occurred in work-related accidents in the nation's mining industry. Six miners died in coal mining, and five died in metal/nonmetal mining.

The 6 coal mining deaths were in the following accident categories: one miner was killed as a result of a Machinery accident. Two miners were fatally injured as a result of Fall of Rib, Roof, Face or Back accidents. Three miners were killed in Powered Haulage accidents.

The 5 metal/nonmetal mining deaths were in the following accident categories: two miners are dead as a result of Fall of Person accidents. One miner died in a Machinery accident. One miner lost his life due to a Falling Material accident and another miner was killed in a Powered Haulage accident. One (20%) of the fatalities involved a contract employee.

MSHA has placed an analysis of the mining fatalities during the third quarter 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, and for trainers to include in miner training.

We have seen a decrease in overall fatality and injury rates in the mining industry as a whole. In 2011, fatality and injury rates were the lowest ever recorded. The fatal injury rate for mining as a whole was .0114 per 200,000 hours worked, and the all-injury rate was 2.73 per 200,000 hours worked. Recently finalized data shows that in the Metal/Nonmetal mining sector, the fatal injury rate was .0084 per 200,000 hours worked and the all-injury rate was 2.28 per 200,000 hours worked. In the Coal mining sector, the fatal injury rate was .0156 per 200,000 hours worked and the all-injury rate was 3.38 per 200,000 hours worked. This means fewer miners are being killed, fewer miners are being injured, and more miners than ever before are going home to their family and friends safe and healthy at the end of their shifts. While mining deaths and injuries have reached historic lows, more actions are needed to prevent miner deaths, injuries and illnesses from occurring.

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 of 1977 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. These programs should be effective enough to find and fix mine hazards and ensure 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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