Advances in US mine safety

America’s mining industry continues to make significant strides in protecting the health and safety of  its workers, according to data in the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Worker Health. Chartbook 2004.

Mining countries around the world could learnj a lot from what has been achieved in the USA in recent years. Mining ranked among the lowest of the major industries in terms of the number and rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in 2001, the report said. Mining’s incidence rate of 4.0 per 100 full-time workers was less than that of agriculture, forestry and fishing, construction, manufacturing, transportation, wholesale and retail trade and services. It was also below the average rate for all private industry (5.7). The only industry with a better ranking was finance, insurance and real estate (1.8).

Mining also was among the best in terms of distribution and number of fatal occupational injuries by private industry sector in 2002. Two industry sectors – construction and transportation; and public utilities – combined accounted for more than 40% of fatal occupational illnesses.

The report notes that while safety and health legislation has been important in reducing fatal injury rates for mining, “other critical factors include improvements in mining technology such as roof bolting, dust suppression and ventilation techniques, and use of noncombustible materials to prevent explosions and fires".

In terms of the incidence rate of total non-fatal occupational injury cases by private industry in 2001, mining again ranked next to lowest with a rate of 3.9 per 100 workers. The average for all private sector workers was 5.4.

The report found a significant decline in both the incidence and fatalities resulting from coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP). Among miners in the USA National Coal Workers X-Ray Surveillance Program with 25 or more years of underground coal mining, the prevalence of CWP category 1/0 or greater fell from 34% in 1973-78 to 4% in 1996-99, the most current period available. More severe CWP (category 2/1 or greater) declined from 10.5% in 1970-73 to less than 1% in 1996-99. Deaths from CWP “declined significantly,” the report said, from 2,870 in 1972 to 1,003 in 1999.

The full report is available at:www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/chartbook/

At the same time, a new database listing mine rescue teams across America and mine emergency services and related contacts at the federal, state and local levels is now available at www.msha.gov. The database is the result of an alliance between Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) said this MSHA, National Mining Association (NMA) and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association (BCOA). The new database allows mine operators and MSHA mine emergency operations personnel to locate emergency services quickly. The data is searchable by service provider and specific category, including vendors, suppliers, mine emergency operations team members, state agencies and emergency contact personnel.

Users can also search by location or a specific description of the desired equipment or service. Vendor information appears on-screen based on the radius distance from the zip code of the mine emergency. Companies listed in the database are part of the North American Industry Classification System, which has codes to provide a broad grouping of similar industries.

The drive to produce the database arose from the 2002 Quecreek experience, when nine miners were trapped in that mine after accidentally breaking into an abandoned flooded mine. To develop the database, MSHA worked with NMA and BCOA representatives, starting with conceptualization in early 2005 and testing during the development phase in July 2005. The groups noted what features they wanted for the web site and MSHA officials developed solutions and produced a final design. Data will be updated quarterly.