Speaking before an aggregates industry group last week, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph Main highlighted the measurable improvements that have taken place in mine safety and health in the past five years. He outlined actions undertaken by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the mining community that have led to mine site compliance improvements, including a reduction of chronic violators, historic low levels of respirable coal dust and silica, and record low numbers of mining deaths.
“The most important measure of our progress is the number of miners who go home safe and healthy at the end of each shift,” said Main. He noted that collective efforts between MSHA and its stakeholders helped make 2015 the safest year in the history of mining. Mining deaths fell to 28 — a record low — in 2015, which is a considerable drop from 46 deaths the previous year. The coal industry also had its safest year on record in 2015, with 11 fatalities reported.
These improvements were not without their challenges, Main observed. In late 2013, mining deaths began to increase after three years of record safety in the metal and nonmetal industry from 2011 through fiscal year 2013. Consequently, MSHA launched fatality reduction efforts, including enhanced enforcement and extensive education and training. Quarterly conference calls with mine safety trainers nationwide also became a staple of the agency’s outreach initiatives.
On August 3, 2015, the metal and nonmetal mining industry suffered a tragic setback with an unprecedented three fatalities at three separate mining operations in Nevada, North Dakota and Virginia.
“Those three deaths threatened to reverse our progress, so MSHA upped its game once again,” said Main. “We put more boots on the ground and increased our ‘walk and talks’ between inspectors and miners to raise awareness about the causes of fatalities and the best practices to prevent them.”
In October 2015, MSHA issued an industry alert to focus attention on what has traditionally been the deadliest month in metal and nonmetal mining. The agency called upon industry stakeholders to help spread the safety message and conduct better “find-and-fix” mine site examinations. The mining community, including national and state aggregate associations, companies and labor organizations, responded immediately to this call to action.
The efforts paid off. For the first time in the U.S., not one death occurred in metal and nonmetal mining deaths in October, and the industry marked a record-setting 133 consecutive days without a single death. In a recent seven-month period, the focus on safety reduced mining deaths to three. “That is a major accomplishment,” said Main. “It indicates that zero deaths are possible if we continue to follow our roadmap and build on its success.”