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A Safety Alert for the Mining Industry
From Joseph A. Main
Assistant Secretary,
Mine Safety and Health Administration

While headlines focus on the disaster at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch (UBB) Mine that killed 29 miners, we cannot lose sight of the fact that other miners are losing their lives at mines around the country. From January 1 to September 2, 2010, 28 other miners from all sectors of mining have died in fatal accidents since January 1, 2010. We must take action to prevent additional fatalities.

Eight miners are dead because they were struck-by moving or falling objects. Roof falls and rib rolls crushed 7 miners. Six miners were killed working in close proximity to mining or haulage equipment. Three more miners lost their lives in explosions and fires; another miner was killed when he was caught inside rotating machinery; a contract miner fell to his death, a contract truck driver was killed when his truck went through a berm and over a highwall, and a miner drowned. Eight of the dead miners were contractors. Each life lost is a tragedy for a family, a mining operation, and a community.

Fatalities can be prevented. They are not inevitable in mining. Effective safety and health management programs save lives. Workplace examinations for hazards - pre-shift and on-shift every shift - can identify and eliminate hazards that kill and injure miners. And effective and appropriate training will ensure that miners recognize and understand hazards and how to control or eliminate them.  

While some of the specific circumstances of these accidents remain under investigation, here is what we do know at this time:

Contractors represent a disproportionate number of these deaths. Mine operators should ensure that contractors have an effective health and safety management program and ensure that contractors have received effective training. Contractors and operators should coordinate operations at the mine to ensure that safety and health management programs are in place and are effective, all workplace examinations are performed, and safe work procedures are followed.

Printable posters addressing the common causes of these fatalities can be found on the Alerts/Hazards section of MSHA's website,

Violations of the priority standards identified earlier this year as Rules to Live By continue to play key roles in mine fatalities. While not all of the fatality investigations have been completed, not all of the violations have been identified and not all of the associated citations and orders have been issued, it currently appears that violations of the Rules to Live By standards were still involved in more than half of those fatalities. MSHA's inspectors will be especially mindful of these issues while performing inspections. They will be talking to miners and mine supervisors in mines throughout the country to discuss these kinds of fatalities, and the ways to prevent them.

The importance and value of effective safety and health management programs cannot be overstated. A thorough, systematic review of all tasks and equipment to identify hazards is the foundation of a well-designed safety and health management program. Modify equipment, processes, work procedures and management systems to eliminate or control identified hazards. Operators and contractors should create effective safety and health management programs, ensure that they are implemented, and periodically review, evaluate, and update them. If an accident or near miss does occur, find out why and act to prevent recurrence. If changes to equipment, materials or work processes introduce new risks into the mine environment, they must be addressed immediately.

Conducting workplace examinations before beginning a shift and during a shift - every shift - can prevent deaths by finding and fixing safety and health hazards. All required workplace examinations must be performed and identified problems resolved to protect workers.

Providing effective and appropriate training to miners is a key element in ensuring the safety and health of miners. Mine operators and Part 46 and Part 48 trainers need to train miners and mine supervisors on the conditions that lead to deaths and injuries and measures to prevent them.

Miners deserve a safe and healthy workplace and the right to go home safe and well at the end of every shift, every day. We must all work together to make that happen.

Click here for a letter from Assistant Secretary Joseph A. Main to the mining community.