Mining safety in the US has improved dramatically over the last century.
In 1931, the earliest year the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) recorded figures for both numbers of miners and workplace deaths, a total of 1,688 employees died from a working population of 748,712.
The ratio of worker fatalities to the total number of miners was 0.00225, it is a figure that remains orders of magnitude greater than the 0.00008 ratio recorded in 2018, when 27 miners died from a workforce of 331,389.
Improvements in safety procedures and regulation, technological developments, and the steady decline of the US coal industry and shrinking of its workforce have all contributed to a decline in operational fatalities that culminated in 2016, when 25 US miners died at work. However, with over 400 fatalities in the period between 2008 and 2018, and consistently high fatalities relating to particular machines, such as powered haulage devices, work remains to be done.
Long-term and short-term improvements to US mine safety
2018 saw fewer deaths in coal operations than 2017, with fatalities falling marginally from 15 to 12. The MSHA divides accidents into 19 categories based on the machinery, equipment and circumstances that lead to the deaths or injuries, and the administration reported one death each in relation to the fall of material, the fall of roof and the slipping of persons in 2017.
There were no deaths in these categories in 2018, and powered haulage, the category responsible for the most deaths in six of the last 11 years in coal mines, saw two fewer deaths in 2018 than 2017.
Developments in technology, particularly tracking devices which can monitor the relative positions of workers and hazardous equipment, are a key reason for this improvement, as workers can be automatically warned about and prevented from entering dangerous areas.
Further improvements in communication, enabling workers to communicate wirelessly with surface operators while underground, have also contributed to this trend, as safety officials can be involved in monitoring workers’ positions and safety, reducing the pressure on individual miners to account for their wellbeing at all times…