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MSHA News Release No. 96-003
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: (703) 235-1452

February 7, 1996

Mine Deaths Rise Slightly in 1995

On-the-job deaths in U.S. mines rose last year for the first time since 1990, Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, noted this week. McAteer, who heads the U.S. Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), recently asked mining community leaders to join in a discussion of the trend.

"While last year's mining fatality record remained better than in previous decades, it is disappointing that this increase occurred," McAteer said. "We offer our condolences and prayers to the miners' families, and we are asking the mining community to join in working to maintain the downward trend."

Last year U.S. mining deaths totaled 98 compared with the previous year's historic low record of 84. Mining deaths also numbered 98 in both 1992 and 1993.

In U.S. coal mines, on-the-job deaths numbered 47 last year, compared with 1994's record low of 44. In the metal and nonmetal mining sector, fatalities rose last year to 51 from 1994's record low of 40.

McAteer said, "We need to maintain the progress that has been made, and take it further. That's why I'm asking for the mining community's help in figuring out what it takes to continue the downward trend in mining deaths."

In underground coal mining, on-the-job deaths held steady at 22 in 1995, while fatalities on the surface increased to 25 from 22 in 1994. In underground metal and nonmetal mines, fatalities in 1995 dropped to 8 from 9 in 1994, while surface fatalities rose from 31 to 43.

"Clearly, we all need to take a hard look at what's happening in surface mines," McAteer said. "We've been concerned for some time about the large number of fatal accidents involving mine trucks, and have held seminars for miners on haulage safety around the country. In the coming year, we hope to do more."

In both coal and metal/nonmetal mines, accidents involving trucks, front-end loaders and similar mining equipment on the surface were the single most frequent type of fatal accident in 1995. Fatal electrical accidents more than doubled in 1995 compared with 1994. Metal and nonmetal mines also saw a rise in deaths that involved machinery.

McAteer said, "The upward trend began in June and reached a high of 15 fatalities during December. Whether the partial government shutdown contributed to the high number of deaths in December is hard to know, but anything that interferes with MSHA's work--especially for longer periods--jeopardizes the health and safety of miners. I'm hopeful that we can get back to normal operation without further uncertainties and interruptions."

McAteer noted that during the partial government shutdown from December 16 through January 5, a number of MSHA activities were suspended including parts of complete regular inspections, all safety and health training activities, analysis of accident data, and laboratory tests on mining equipment.

During the partial shutdown, MSHA inspectors conducted special focused inspections aimed at preventing potential disasters such as mine explosions.

"In underground coal mines, methane explosions are always a hazard, and winter is especially hazardous due to dry winter air combined with barometric fluctuations. So far this winter, explosion prevention efforts have paid off," McAteer said. "Every underground coal mine releases methane, so it takes several lines of defense and the utmost vigilance on everyone's part--management, miners, and inspectors--to prevent tragic mine explosions."

The most recent fatal mine explosion claimed two lives in 1994; 1995 was free of fatal mine explosions.

Also during the shutdown MSHA personnel dealt with mine emergencies and responded to urgent requests for safety approvals so that companies could proceed with mining plans.

"The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, and its amendments in 1977 that incorporated metal and nonmetal mines into the same system, have been very successful. The Federal mine safety and health law has made life much safer and healthier for American miners," McAteer said. "To jeopardize that progress would be a step backwards."

Statistics on Mining Deaths in the U.S.

                         MINING DEATHS IN THE U.S.

          Coal Mines          Metal/Nonmetal Mines          Total

1968         311                       182                   493
1969         203                       179                   382
1970         260                       165                   425
1971         181                       164                   345
1972         156                       234                   390
1973         132                       175                   307
1974         133                       158                   291
1975         155                       123                   278
1976         141                       113                   254
1977         139                       133                   272
1978         106                       136                   242
1979         144                       123                   267
1980         133                       103                   236
1981         153                        84                   237
1982         122                        68                   190
1983          70                        62                   132
1984         125                        80                   205
1985          68                        57                   125
1986          89                        49                   138
1987          63                        67                   130
1988          53                        49                   102
1989          68                        48                   108
1990          66                        56                   122
1991          61                        53                   114
1992          55                        43                    98
1993          47                        51                    98
1994          44                        40                    84
1995*         47                        51                    98

* Preliminary