On November 20, 1968, a catastrophic explosion rocked the Consol No. 9 coal mine outside of Farmington, West Virginia. Seventy-eight miners perished in that accident. While the cause of the explosion was never determined, it served as a catalyst for a series of landmark mine safety laws that were passed to protect miners.
In 1969, the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act mandated regular inspections of coal mines and fines for all violations found. Eight years later, in 1977, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act strengthened and expanded rights for miners, required mine rescue teams to be established, and created the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
In 1968, 311 coal miners lost their lives in work-related accidents. Another 182 miners were killed in metal and nonmetal mining accidents. And annual mining fatalities continued to be measured in the hundreds for more than a decade.
Mine safety has improved significantly since then, not only because of the laws and regulations that were passed, but also because of the efforts of industry and changing mining practices. These days, total mine fatalities are measured in the low double digits.
MSHA recognizes that, in spite of these improvements, a single preventable mining death is one too many. Thus, the agency investigates each fatality thoroughly to determine root causes and use the lessons learned to prevent future tragedies.