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MSHA News Release No. 97-0716
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Wednesday, July 16, 1997

Four Accidental Mining Deaths in 12-Hour Period
Federal Mine Inspectors Act to Prevent Further Roof Fall Hazards at Nation's Mines

Federal mine inspectors will undertake a special program of increased safety measures at all U.S. underground coal mines this week in the wake four deaths Tuesday from mine roof fall accidents in Virginia and Pennsylvania, according to the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

In the space of 12 hours on Tuesday, four miners were killed and four more were injured in three separate incidents. Two miners were killed in Tazewell County, Va., when a mine roof collapsed at approximately 9 a.m. Another miner was killed when a roof fell in a coal mine in Wise County, Va., at about 2 p.m. A fourth miner died in a roof fall accident in Somerset County, Pa., nearly two hours later. As of today, 19 coal miners have been killed in accidents on the job this year and seven of those were by roof fall accidents.

"I am greatly saddened by these accidents and the tragic loss of life--and my heart goes out to the families of the 4 victims in Virginia and Pennsylvania," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman. "My bottom line has always been that no worker should lose their life for their livelihood. I have directed J. Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary for Mine Safety and Health, and his staff to immediately investigate these catastrophes and to immediately develop further steps to address--and correct--these hazards."

McAteer said that beginning Thursday, MSHA will dispatch nearly 700 mine inspectors to every underground coal mine in the nation to review specific safeguards and actions that can be taken to prevent these deadly accidents.

"We have contacted industry and labor associations and state agencies who have all agreed to join with us to alert the mining community and take steps to prevent further occurrences," McAteer said. "I am also asking that all underground coal mine operators take a closer look at their mine's roof control plan. We also ask all miners to be especially vigilant regarding roof conditions."

Traditionally, mine roof falls have been one of the major causes of accidental mining deaths. In recent years, however, the number of roof fall deaths have been declining. Last year, roof fall deaths accounted for 13 of the 39 coal mining deaths in the nation.

"Our agency will conduct a thorough investigation of each roof fall accident that occurred on Tuesday and will issue a detailed report on the causes of each," continued McAteer. "We are investigating these accidents to see if patterns in the work routine or other actions at the mine site leading up to the accident, or any other causes can be detected."

A statistical review appears to show that many roof falls occur during the hotter months of the year when warmer air bring more moisture into the mine atmosphere and may loosen strata in the mine roof.

Also, activities such as "retreat mining"--the final phase of the mining process during which the remaining pillars of coal are systematically removed resulting in collapsing of the mine roof--can create increased roof fall hazards. Increased roof fall hazards may also be present in newly opened mines or in recently re-opened mines where roof conditions are not familiar to the mine operator. Another possible cause are geographical anomalies that occur naturally in the earth and tend to weaken the strata in certain areas of the mine roof.

MSHA has authority to inspect mines for safety and health violations and to conduct investigations of all fatal mining accidents in the nation.

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