© 2024 WUKY
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kentucky Reports 8 Coal Mining Deaths in 2011

By Associated Press

Frankfort, KY – The death toll from U.S. coal mine accidents fell to 21 during the past year, the second lowest annual count since the federal government began keeping records more than a century ago.

Kentucky led the nation in coal deaths in 2011 with eight miners killed on the job, followed by West Virginia with six.

Joe Main, head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, said stepped up federal safety enforcement has helped the coal industry to rebound from 2010 when 48 miners were killed nationwide, 29 of them in an underground explosion in West Virginia.

"We are constantly monitoring the mines that have problems, whether its enforcement problems, ventilation issues, problems with regards to complaints by miners," Main said. "I just believe that is making a real difference in the mining industry in terms of cleaning up some of the more difficult coal mines."

Records from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration show that an additional eight miners were killed in sand, gravel and rock mines, three in gold mines, two in silver mines, two in phosphate mines and one in a platinum mine. Those 16 fatalities brought the overall death toll in the mining industry to 37 in 2011.

Main said tougher safety standards have clearly yielded good results. Between 1900 and 1947 it was common to have annual U.S. death tolls in coal mines between 1,000 and 3,000. The record high was 3,242 in 1907. That year, the nation's most deadly mine explosion killed 358 people near Monongah, W.Va.

The last time more than 100 people died in the nation's coal mines in a single year was 1984, when 125 miners were killed. The record low for coal mine deaths in a single year was 18 in 2009.

"I think there's a number of us in the mining industry who believe we can go to zero, and I think that's where we need to aim for," Main said. "I don't think that's unrealistic."

Several major coal-producing states achieved that goal in 2011, including Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

United Mine Workers of America international representative Tim Miller said those states have proven that miners can do their job in relative safety.

"The numbers don't lie," Miller said. "We can't continue to say it's an inherently dangerous industry when you look at other states that have no fatalities."

Other states that reported coal mining fatalities include Ohio with two, and Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia and Wyoming, all of which had one coal fatality.

Most of the coal fatalities over the past year resulted from miners being stuck by falling rocks or by machinery.

"Obviously, we still have work to do as we work toward the goal of zero fatalities," said Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association. "Mine safety remains the No. 1 priority in the coal industry."

Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet spokesman Dick Brown said his agency continues to press to make coal mining safer.

"Even one mining-related fatality is one too many," Brown said. "Our people must do all they can in the coming year to make certain we have no fatalities. That is our goal and desire."

A series of coal mine disasters over the past five years have focused attention on the dangers of the occupation and has led to beefed-up enforcement.

In 2006, 12 miners were killed in a methane explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia and five who died in a similar explosion at the Darby Mine in Kentucky. In 2007, six were killed in the collapse of the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah. And in 2010, the U.S. coal industry had its deadliest year in nearly two decades in 2010, with most of the deaths stemming from a single explosion at Massey Energy Co.'s Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia where 29 miners were killed.

UMWA regional vice president Steve Earle said he believes those deaths were preventable.

"A lot of it goes back to operators pushing for maximum production," he said. "Just think just how many women don't have a husband today, and how many children don't have fathers because of this. This is an industry that has to be regulated. Without regulation, more miners are going to die."