Friday, August 04, 2017

Death rate in coal mines jumps; feds blame new miners; old miner points to greed and politics

"Deaths in U.S. coal mines this year have surged ahead of last year's, and federal safety officials say workers who are new to a mine have been especially vulnerable to fatal accidents," Dylan Lovan reports for The Associated Press. "But the nation's coal miner's union says the mine safety agency isn't taking the right approach to fixing the problem."

In 2015, top MSHA officials met with miners in the Gibson
North mine at Princeton, Ind. (AP photo by Timothy Easley)
Ten coal miners died in mines in the first seven months of this year, but only eight died during all of 2016. The Mine Safety and Health Administration says it is "sending officials to observe and train miners new to a particular mine on safer working habits," Lovan reports, but the United Mine Workers of America points out that inspectors on such visits can't cite mines for violations they see. "To take away the inspector's right to issue a violation takes away the one and only enforcement power the inspector and the agency has," UMWA President Cecil Roberts said in recent letter to agency, part of the Department of Labor.

The uptick in fatalities was reported July 31 by Gary Bentley, a retired miner, in The Daily Yonder. Relatively few miners have written about their experiences underground, so Bentley's occasional contributions to the Yonder give valuable insight. He writes:
   As an underground miner, I do know that miners often put themselves at risk with no pressure or persuasion from the company. I have done it more times than I can count, but I was lucky enough to not suffer any serious injuries. I also know that as market values change and profits begin to dwindle, many companies become more lax with safety initiatives and often have to reduce the amount of preventative maintenance done on equipment. All of that does result in an increased likelihood for accidents. I also know that many times mine managers would work out deals with state and federal inspectors to avoid fines and tickets, and sometimes to completely avoid a safety inspection at all. The industry is corrupt from the top down, and it’s no news for anyone who has worked in it.
   The problem now is our political climate. We are seeing a steep decline in the coal market values and demand. There are companies cutting benefits to miners and cutting cost wherever possible to continue earning a profit. Now there are politicians and lobbyist groups working to cut environmental and safety regulations in an attempt to keep the coal companies in business, making a profit, and, in turn, keeping that black gold flowing into their political campaigns and pockets.
Tim Loh of Bloomberg has a story about the uptick, with an example of a Kentucky miner who died at a mine that was found to have several violations. With the story is this chart (click to enlarge):

No comments: