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MSHA News Release No. 98-0427
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Statement by Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health J. Davitt McAteer
in Observance of Workers Memorial Day

This week miners and mine workers around the nation will observe Workers Memorial Day in the United States. This is a time when all of us will pause to reflect upon the sacrafices made by mine workers who have been seriously injured, permanently disabled, and killed in accidents due to workplace safety and health hazards. We pause to recognize the contribution those workers have made to the increased protections that exist in the mining workplace today.

America's mining industry has made tremendous strides in safety and health that enhance protection of workers from hazards in the mining environment. Gone are the days when hundreds of miners died each year in tragic workplace accidents. Gone are the days when deadly mine explosions were commonplace in mining communities and multiple families were much too frequently left without fathers, husbands, and brothers. Gone are the days when diseases of the lung caused by inhaling the dust of minerals dug from the earth was an accepted consequence of a decent job.

Thanks to those workers who made the ultimate sacrafice, miners who go to work today stand a much better chance of arriving home safely after a day's work than did their predecessors of 25 or 30 years ago. In 1968, 311 coal miners died in mining accidents, including the 78 West Virginia coal miners who died in the Farmington mine explosion that year. In 1972, 234 metal and nonmetal miners were killed in accidents on the job, including the victims of the tragic Sunshine Mine fire in Kellog, Idaho, that took the lives of 91 miners.

By contrast coal mining deaths have fallen to an average of 39 over the last three years, while metal and nonmetal deaths have dropped to an average of 53.

Exposure to respirable dust in coal mines, the cause of black lung disease, has also been reduced over the years and the prevalence of black lung disease among miners has declined by more than two-thirds.

Such improvements would never have been possible without the protection afforded by the Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969, which was later amended to extend the same protection to non-coal miners. This landmark legislation, developed in response to the high number of fatalities occurring in the nation's mines, provided American miners with the most comprehensive and effective workplace protection in our nation's history. The law increased the frequency of federal mine inspections, strengthened federal safety standards, and established new health standards for the first time, providing miners with unprecedented protection from workplace hazards--hazards that claimed the lives of so many in the past.

As we in the mining industry observe Workers Memorial Day, we thoroughly recognize and pay tribute to the men and women who have lost their lives in America's mines and thank their survivors for a healthier and safer mining industry in 1998.