Safety and mining have not always had a cohesive partnership. It took an act of Congress in 1891, to establish minimum ventilation requirements for underground coal mines and to protect children under the age of 12 from being employed by mine operators. Fast forward to 2017-2018 and most would look back at the safety conditions of the 1800’s and shudder. Thankfully, Miners in the U.S. are more protected now, than ever.
Here are some interesting facts you may not know!
- In 1906 children as young as 12 years old were working underground in coal mines. Broken limbs and crushed fingers were common.
- 1907 is the deadliest year in history for coal mining, it is estimated that 3242 people were killed. That year also marked the worst explosion in mining history, killing 358 people in West Virginia.
- In 1910 Congress established the Bureau of Mines to conduct research and to reduce accidents within the coal mining industry. This new bureau was a direct result of a prior decade of fatalities, which exceeded 2000 individuals annually. While the Bureau of Mines could conduct researches on the accidents, they were not given inspection authority until 1941.
- The Fair Labor Standards Act was passed by Congress in 1938, prohibiting the use of workers under 18 for occupations that were deemed dangerous.
- In 1977, Congress passed the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act), which currently governs MSHA’s activities. The passing of this legislation saw mining fatalities drop from 272 in 1977 to 86 in 2000.
- In 2004, 55 occupational mining fatalities were reported to MSHA. 16 of those were in underground mines and 39 were at surface locations.
- There were 8 coal fatalities in 2016.
- The most recent legislation was passed in 2006 with the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER Act). This amended the Mine Act and required immediate notification of mine accidents; mandated mine-specific emergency response plans for underground coal mines and enhanced civil penalties.
There is no argument that Mining has become safer for the workers, over the centuries. With legislation to protect workers, companies implementing good safety procedures and workers practicing them, the fatality numbers continue to decline. The year we hit zero fatalities, will be a very good year indeed!