Mining deaths, respirable dust samples drop to historic lows in FY 2016

Staff Report

ARLINGTON, Va. – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration released data Wednesday that indicates Fiscal Year 2016 was the safest year in mining history.

From Oct. 1, 2015, to Sept. 30, 2016, a record low 24 deaths occurred at the more than 13,000 mines nationwide, the lowest total since 34 in FY 2013, Assistant Secretary of Labor Joseph A. Main announced at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beaver, West Virginia. In FY 2015, there were 38 mining deaths.

“These numbers represent nearly a 30 percent drop since FY 2013,” said Main, speaking at the annual Training Resources Applied to Mining conference. “The extensive efforts by MSHA and the mining community that held metal and nonmetal mining deaths to three during a 7-month period were instrumental in driving these numbers.”

Main cautioned against complacency, noting four fatal mining accidents occurred in September 2016. “We are eroding the gains we have made on behalf of our nation’s miners. Eliminating mining deaths and reducing injuries and illnesses is a goal that must be shared by all of us. We can – and must – strive to reach zero mining deaths,” he said.

For its part, MSHA is ramping up enforcement, outreach and compliance assistance actions. In a recent conference call with industry stakeholders, the agency urged participants to reinvigorate their efforts to reverse the trend in mining deaths and regain last year’s momentum, which produced the safest period in mining history. “We are calling on all of our stakeholders, including mine operators, miners’ organizations, associations and trainers, to increase their attention to the conditions and hazards that are leading to fatalities,” said Main.

Turning from safety to health issues, Main noted that efforts to lower levels of respirable coal mine dust and silica in the nation’s coal mines remain on track. Since the 2009 launch of the “End Black Lung – Act Now” campaign, average respirable dust levels have decreased annually. Dust sampling results for FY 2016, collected under the respirable coal dust rule that went into effect in August 2014, dropped to historic lows. During this period, the yearly average respirable dust samples collected by MSHA from the dustiest occupations in underground coal mines fell to 0.64 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3), down from the FY 2015 average of 0.70 mg/m3.

Mine operators and MSHA personnel have collected nearly 154,000 respirable dust samples under the new rule, and 99.3 percent of those samples met compliance levels. “The new respirable dust rule is working to reduce miners’ exposure to unhealthy conditions, and that is good news for miners,” said Main.

Operator sampling with continuous personal dust monitors, which began in April, also showed positive results. From April 1, 2014, through July 31, 2016, mine operators collected nearly 40,000 valid CPDM samples, with 99.8 percent in compliance.

Staff Report

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