An alarming trend

In the very hours I write this column, the American mining community is marking Stand Down to Save Lives, an annual initiative called by federal regulators to bring attention to the need for eliminating safety and health hazards and mine sites.

In its May 13 announcement of the May 22 effort MSHA noted that, at that time, 12 fewer miners had died in workplace accidents in 2024 versus May of last year. It goes without saying that just one fatality is too many.

That statement makes the following question all the more alarming: Did you know that the U.S. mining industry has had seven deaths as of late May, four of which occurred in a month’s time – and three of those were within less than two weeks of one another?

In April, the fourth death in the mining industry was recorded at Martin Marietta Materials when the tail section of a collapsible belt conveyor fell and pinned a victim between the tail section and middle section. The miner was working as part of a crew to tear down the conveyor in preparation to be moved at the company’s Colorado complex.

Then came May. One miner died May 8 in an electrical incident at a Heritage Group site in Indiana. The very next day, a powered haulage accident took the life of a worker at an Arcosa surface site in Texas. The following week, on May 16, a miner died on the job while working at a Wyoming County, W.Va., surface coal site in a machinery accident. Investigations are still ongoing for each of these to determine a more exact cause and best prevention practices.

These last four incidents are, and should be, an enormous wake-up call to the mining community. At the very least, carefully examining the details of these events can hopefully offer some insight for other mines to take into their safety meetings as sources for a renewed focus to hopefully prevent this rash of events from continuing – in the short-term or the long-term.

Williamson stressed this in his open letter to the nation’s operators, calling for the critical need to conduct thorough and proper examinations and task training – and also for miners to speak up when they see problems.

No matter your feelings about MSHA as an overnight agency, the point it has made is vital: mining’s full attention is needed before this rash gets worse. “In the past year, I have traveled across the country, talking to miners and their representatives, operators, and safety professionals, and everyone I spoke with was troubled by last year’s fatality numbers. In those conversations there was broad agreement that the industry can and must do better,” Williamson said.

This industry can certainly do it; we’ve done it before and we will do it again. Preachy is not this editor’s style, but it’s worth saying at this important crossroad: with everyone’s help, mining can still end 2024 in a much better position than how its performance has been as of late. Let’s do it.

Here’s to safety, and our collective road to zero.

Donna Schmidt
Editor, North American Mining magazine
[email protected]
(740) 624-4642
Twitter: @Dschmidt_NAM

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