March 30, 2010

Mining safety: not just for China

When the whistle blows each morning And I walk down in this cold dark mine, I say a prayer to my dear savior Please let me see the sunshine one more day. A Miner's Prayer

Our Google alert for safety today turned up the tragic story of 153 Chinese mine workers trapped underground in a flooded mine. China is a country that sees an annual miner death toll in the thousands:

"China's mining industry is the world's deadliest. Accidents killed "only" 2,631 coal miners last year, fewer than half the 6,995 deaths in 2002. However, many analysts doubt that the figures reflect reality, believing instead that many deaths simply go unreported."

Here in the US, some retired miners might recall a day when our coal mining fatalities were up in the quadruple digits. We experienced more than one thousand annual coal mining fatalities through 1947. It wasn't until after 1985 that fatalities dropped consistently from triple to double digits. Our worst disaster occurred in 1907, when 362 boys and men died in West Virginia's Monongah Mine disaster after an underground explosion. In fact, the plethora of mining disasters with hundreds of fatalities were a backdrop leading to the establishment of better worker protections, including a workers compensation system. One can only hope the public will call for increasing safety and reforms in China mines.

For more on this story, we went to the best and most knowledgeable mining media source we know and it did not disappoint: Ken Ward's Coal Tattoo has the latest coverage of the China tragedy, including an update which notes that warnings were ignored before mine flood. Ken reports on mining for the Charlotte Gazette. He and the people of West Virginia know quite a bit about mine disasters. Earlier this year, Ken reported that the nation experienced a record low in mining deaths last year - 34 - but he asks if that is enough. Good question. A little over a week ago, Ward reported that fewer than 1 in 10 U.S. mines have added improved communications and tracking equipment that could help miners escape an explosion or fire - a requirement after the MINER Act, a law that was prompted by a series of mining fatalities in 2006, including the Sago mine disaster.

Our sympathy goes out to the families of the China miners, who are suffering through a terrible vigil, the way so many other miners' families have suffered. We can only hope that tragedy will serve as a catalyst to better safety advancements in China. And despite the progress we've made here in the U.S. over the years, we see by the recent report about the lackadaisical measures taken to protect our own miners, our memories are short.

Prior posts on mining
Cold comfort: Crandall Canyon survivors and workers comp
A bad way to make a living - links to interesting historical exhibits on mining
The sad, quiet death of Bud Morris - father, husband, motorcycle aficionado
The feds and Phantom Miners
Sago mining disaster and workers comp: newly formed insurer to pay benefits
Sago mining deaths: a sorry way to begin the new year

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This page contains a single entry by Julie Ferguson published on March 30, 2010 3:29 PM.

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