Cave-ins and collapses are the first things that most people think of when considering the dangers of working in the mining industry. There is an inherent fear of venturing underground and then finding the way back to the surface cut off by a collapse.
Workers in the mining industry face risks with each shift. The onus is on the employer to ensure that these workers remain as safe as possible while they work. There are some very specific dangers that they should be aware of, so they can take steps to prevent them.
When people think about injuries in the mining industry, explosions and similar incidents frequently come to mind. What they might not realize is that many mining injuries stem from other, often preventable, factors. One of these is the length of each shift the miners work.
An explosion in a West Virginia coal mine in 1907 claimed the lives of 362 miners, and this kind of disaster is still worryingly common more than a century later. There were 10 coal mine explosions in the United States Between 1986 and 2010 that resulted in multiple casualties, and almost all of them involved buildups of methane. Coal dust explosions are even more deadly than methane blasts, but they are usually triggered by ignited methane.
The 1977 Mine Act was intended to give miners in West Virginia and other states certain rights. Amended in 2006, it's still a piece of legislation that gives miners important job-related rights. The legislation also encourages both employers and miners to work together to develop and implement effective safety and health programs that reduce instances of workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths.
A massive explosion tragically killed at least 25 miners in West Virginia in 2010, making it at that time the worst coal mine accident in over 20 years. Officials believe that methane gas may have caused the mine to explode. Coal mine explosions are generally caused by either methane or coal dust. Methane gas is a byproduct of coal. It can build up over time in coal mines when there are not enough other types of gases to dilute it to prevent an explosion.
If a coal mine explodes in West Virginia or elsewhere, it can be caused by coal dust, methane or a combination of the two. Methane can be controlled by using fans that help keep levels at lower than explosive concentrations. It is also possible to drill drainage holes to let the gas escape prior to mining.
In 2016, coal mining deaths hit a record low with eight being reported. In 2017, there were 15 deaths at coal mines, and 8 of those deaths occurred in West Virginia mines. Other states to report deaths included Kentucky and Alabama. Many of these deaths occurred before a new head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration was appointed in September.
A safety alert issued by the Mining Safety and Health Administration suggests the agency will be placing emphasis on testing methods as part of inspections of West Virginia sites. The safety issue concerned testing specifically performed on wire rope. MSHA called for use of both nondestructive testing (NDT) and visual checks after inspections that returned different results than earlier ones that did not utilize nondestructive testing methods. The safety warning provided guidance on best practices for use of NDT and visual inspection on wire and hoisting rope.
Coal miners are particularly vulnerable to fatal workplace accidents. There have already been more deaths in the nation's coal mines in 2017 than there were in 2016,with five so far taking place in West Virginia. Even so, the coal miner's union has claimed that the Mine Safety and Health Administration was not working on a viable solution to reduce the number of deaths.