The deaths of 12 men in the Sago mine began the year on a somber note, adding another sad page to the roster of West Virginia mining deaths. Yesterday's news that several of the miners wrote notes in the last few minutes of life to reassure family was heart wrenching. And now the inevitable stories are emerging that the mine had hundreds of safety violations.
While mining safety has improved since the days when hundreds of lives were claimed in a year - or even in a single terrible event such as the Mononagh disaster that killed 362 men and boys in 1907 - mining is still among the most high-risk professions, with one of the highest fatality rates. The weblog Mine Safety Watch notes that "a coal miner was more than 6 times as likely to get killed on the job as the average U.S. worker in 2004."
As is the case with most important safety stories, Jordan Barab at Confined Space has been posting prodigiously on this matter. In a series of recent posts, he takes the administration and the Mining Health & Safety Administration (MHSA) to task for cutbacks in worker protections, and also notes the AFL-CIO rollback of safety and health resources right at a time when federal protections are being cut back.
Meanwhile, the Wrongful Death Accountability Act lingers somewhere in legislative limbo. Until there are meaningful penalties for deaths resulting from willful failure to comply with safety regulations, needless worker deaths will continue to occur.
Whistleblower Warns the Bush Administration Is Cutting Back Mining Safety Regulations
U.S. Mining Under Scrutiny
Mining deaths - and exhibition by U.S. DOL
West Virginia Coal Mining
Coal Mining Disasters from Roots Web