Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: (703) 235-1452
Thursday, October 2, 1997
California, Texas, Florida, Nevada To Get Increased Attention Federal Mine Inspectors Complete Two-Week Sweep, Begin New Phase in Safety EffortFederal mine inspectors from the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) recently completed a special two-week safety sweep that took them to more than 9,000 U.S. mining operations to bring attention to the increased number of accidental deaths in metal and nonmetal mines. Over the last two weeks, an unprecedented group of MSHA personnel has saturated the nation's metal and nonmetal mining operations. Metal and nonmetal mining fatalities had climbed to 50 as of Sept. 10 of this year compared with 34 at the same time last year.
As of Oct. 2, that total fatality count stands at 54 for 1997. One fatality occurred during the mine sweep and three occurred this week, after the sweep was completed.
"Our intent was to raise awareness concerning the unusually high number of fatal accidents occurring at metal and nonmetal mines this year," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "We reached a great majority of industry miners, supervisors, and mine managers and made them aware that these accidents are preventable. However, I am quite disheartened that three fatalities occurred just after our mine sweep ended. We are definitely not where we want to be."
MSHA personnel spoke directly to 108,000 miners at 9,006 of the nation's 11,000 mines during the two-week sweep which began on Sept. 15 and ended on Sept. 26. Four fatalities at metal and nonmetal mining operations occurred since the special effort began. They include a truck driver who was killed when he stepped out of his tractor-trailer and was run over by the rear wheels on Sept. 16 in Silver Peak, Nev.; a supervisor who was believed to have drowned on Sept. 28 in Friars Point, Miss.; a technician killed while removing a tire from his truck in Fort Meyers, Fla.on Sept. 29; and a scraper operator who drove the vehicle off the side of a stockpile in Salado, Tex., on Sept. 30.
"While we still do not know precisely the reason fatal accidents continue to occur at such an increased pace this year, we will continue to focus our resources on finding a solution and bringing a halt to this disturbing trend," added McAteer. "We are going to keep trying various methods of assistance and enforcement until we hit the right button."
As for the cause of the recent increase in mining deaths, McAteer related that investigators are looking at such possibilities as excessive work hours of employees due to downsizing at some operations, newly hired employees who are not properly trained in certain duties, contractor employees who are unfamiliar with the dangers of the mining environment, and a lack of awareness by supervisors of their responsibilities under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act. According to MSHA's preliminary investigation, one of the miners killed on the job this week had worked 12-hour shifts for 15 consecutive days before his fatal accident.
MSHA will immediately begin the next phase of the accident reduction efforts by focusing inspection personnel on several key states in which mining fatalities are most frequently occurring this year. Agency personnel will be shifted from other areas of the nation to focus on mining sites in California and Texas, both of which have six fatal accidents; and Florida and Nevada, which both have five fatalities.
McAteer added, "we are now entering a stepped up inspection mode that will send more inspectors to certain mine sites to conduct inspections for longer periods of time and allow for observance of specific work practices."
"During the September sweep, inspectors were told to emphasize communication and education with regard to causes of fatal accidents and ways to prevent these accidents from occurring. During this phase, we will look for any and all violations of mine safety regulations at these mine sites and will cite those violations."
Also, as part of this phase of accident reduction, the six MSHA district offices will develop and implement a tailored program of mine inspection for the mines and miners in those areas. Attention will be focused on tasks and circumstances which have involved fatal accidents and will ensure that mine operators are devoting appropriate resources to miner safety.
There were a total of 47 accidental deaths in the metal and nonmetal mining industry last year.
* as of 10/2/1997