According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the last time that our country had seen three deaths of American miners in a three (3) day time span was over the Christmas holiday season in 2002, when three miners perished working on the job during a 3-day time period of December 26 to December 28th.
Until this month, when October 4-6, 2013, saw 3 miners die while working on the job. Two of these miners were working coal — an Illinois coal miner and a West Virginia coal miner died in underground coal mine fatalities. The third miner died when a bulldozer jumped a 150-foot wall at a Wyoming surface mine. (The Illinois accident happened at the Willow Lake Mine, details here.)
Three Miner Fatalities Per Month From January to June 2013
By comparison, the Department of Labor has recorded 18 miners on the job deaths from January 1, 2013 to June 30, 2013. Of these 18 on the job miner fatalities, 9 miners perished while working in coal mines; the other 9 miners died while on the job in metal and nonmetal mining accidents.
Three Miner Fatalities During One Week in September 2013
In September, 3 miners died in one week’s time as: (1) 09/16/2013, a 58 year old miner was killed when the haul truck he was driving traveled through a berm and over a highwall; (2) 09/18/2013, a 56 year old miner was killed when he was engulfed by material in a hopper; and (3) 09/19/2013, a 32 year old miner was killed when the truck he was driving flipped over.
Three Miner Deaths Over One October Weekend Is Cause for Concern
The Mine Safety and Health Administration is concerned. It is labeling these three accidents as a “red flag” about mine safety. Weekends are noted to be more dangerous for miners – and both these sets of fatalities (December 2002 and October 2013) happened on weekend shifts.
The union representing American miners is also worried. United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil E. Roberts issued the following statement:
“The hearts and prayers of every UMWA member are with the families of the three miners who have been killed on the job in the last week. Though none of them were members of our union, we stand ready to assist their families in any way we can.
“One of those killed was a supervisor who was a former UMWA member working at the McElroy mine outside Moundsville, W. Va., where we represent the hourly workers. We are participating in the investigation into his death at that mine.
“The circumstances surrounding each of these fatalities are different, and I do not want to draw immediate conclusions as to their causes based on incomplete evidence at this time. But it is extremely troubling that within a week after the federal government shutdown caused the normal system of mine safety inspection and enforcement to come to a halt, three miners are dead.
“The government’s watchdog isn’t watching. The shutdown means that there are fewer mine inspectors on the job. Those who are working are either keeping an eye on operators and mines with a history of mine safety and health problems, or responding to special situations. But no regular inspections are taking place, even though they are required by law.
“Safety violations that would normally be caught and corrected as a result of those inspections are being missed. Even the smallest violations, when allowed to accumulate, can lead to dangerous conditions very quickly in a coal mine.
“I urge all miners, union members or not, to be especially careful at work. Check on your buddy. Watch each other’s back. Take extra precautions when operating machinery. And finally, call your members of Congress and Senators and tell them while they’re squabbling, miners are dying.”