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MSHA News Release No. 97-1105
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Wednesday, November 5, 1997

13 Deaths in 18 Months at U.S. Operations Cause Concern
MSHA Alerting Mining Industry on Drowning Deaths at Mine Sites

The Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is alerting the mining industry of precautions that should be taken to prevent accidental drownings at U.S. mining sites. Agency statistics show that 13 miners have drowned in the past 18 months while performing work at metal and nonmetal (non-coal mining) operations. The 13 deaths since April 1996 constitute nearly 60 percent of all drownings at mine sites in the nation over the past seven years. Twenty-three mine workers have drowned since 1990.

"Clearly, this increase in accidental drownings deserves the full attention of the mining industry," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "We want to be sure that all in the industry are aware that drowning hazards are a real threat and urge them to take action to prevent such a tragedy from occurring at their mine site."

Of the 23 mining deaths due to drowning that have occurred since May 1990, 12 of those victims were on mining equipment that fell into water. Ten other workers during that time slipped and fell into water. One other victim drowned while swimming from the shore.

Twelve of the victims were working at a quarry or strip mining operation, while another ten victims worked at dredging operations. One victim worked at a mill.

"These accidents are preventable and many of these victims may have been saved by something as simple as wearing a life jacket," McAteer said.

One drowning victim who was not wearing a life jacket, a Tennessee dredge operator, died as he was attempting to dislodge sand rock from a suction hose when he fell overboard. Another was an Alabama utility man who was walking on a pipeline from the shore to the dredgeline and drowned when he slipped and fell into the water. A Texas dredge operator also drowned when he attempted to swim out into the water to catch his boat that had drifted off from the bank.

In addition, a Mississippi mine superintendent drowned when, after working his 15th consecutive day of 12 hour shifts, he slipped and fell from a dredge into the Mississippi River. Furthermore, agency records show that 13 of the 23 drowning victims since 1990 were working shifts of 10 to 12 hours per day prior to time of the accidents.

"We are continuing to look closely at the work hours of accident victims so that we can determine whether or not mental and physical fatigue have a significant role in these fatal accidents," added McAteer.

MSHA inspectors will distribute information concerning the drowning accidents at mine sites and also will remind mine operators of precautions to take to prevent these accidents. MSHA advises mine operators to minimize the risk to workers around bodies of water by:

  • Assigning workers who are good swimmers to jobs around water;
  • Assuring that workers on dredges and barges wear life jackets;
  • Providing safe access to barges and dredges;
  • Ensuring that boats and other equipment are properly maintained and not used beyond their design capability;
  • Constructing berms or barriers along bodies of water;
  • Advising workers to avoid working out of sight or hearing distance of co-workers; and
  • Adopting a water safety/accident prevention program for all employees.

MSHA inspects all U.S. mining operations for compliance with Federal safety and health regulations and also has responsibility for investigating all accidental mining deaths.

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