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MSHA News Release No. 98-0622
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Katharine Snyder
Phone: (703) 235-1452

'98 Roof Fall Casualties All Within 52 Mile Area
MSHA Alerting Underground Coal Mining Operations of Increasing Roof Fall Fatalities

The Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is alerting the operators and miners at underground coal mines in specific coal mining areas of the eastern United States to the increasing number of roof fall fatalities that have occurred so far in 1998. Eight of 12 fatal accidents that have occurred this year at underground coal mines have been roof fall accidents and all have occurred within a 52-mile radius--an area encompassing southwestern Virginia, southern West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky.

By sharing information with the mining community, MSHA is aiming to renew miners' and mine operators' awareness of the hazards of roof falls and how best to prevent them.

Falls of mine roof or rib have claimed the lives of eight miners so far this year, surpassing the two roof fall deaths that had occurred by this date during 1997, and coming to within one of last year's total of nine fatal roof fall deaths.

In response, MSHA inspectors, along with those from certain state agencies, are visiting all underground mines in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia to inform mine operators and miners of the increasing number of fatalities involving roof falls and to review safety precautions to avoid these devastating accidents.

The fact that the accidents have occurred in a relatively limited area has prompted MSHA to concentrate its awareness program in the areas where these fatalities have occurred.

Specifically the inspectors will reaffirm with miners that the law prohibits them from entering areas of the mine in which the roof is not properly supported. They will also re-emphasize to mine foremen the need to take extreme caution in conducting required mine examinations.

Inspectors will also ask operators to take a close look at their current roof conditions to determine if the roof is adequately supported.

Historically, more roof fall accidents occur during the hot, humid summer months as warm air carries moisture into the mine. The moisture is absorbed into the roof strata and may weaken the roof, making it easier for the mine roof to fall.

There have been a total of 14 coal mining deaths so far in calendar year 1998. There were also 14 fatalities in coal mining as of this date in 1997, a year in which a total of 30 coal miners were killed on the job, a record low for accidental coal mining deaths.