Mining has provided American workers with essential jobs for more than a century. Those jobs have long come with serious hazards, including powerful machinery, darkened tunnels, and combustible materials.
Safety has improved in recent years—fatalities hit a five-year low at 28 in 2015—but challenges remain. Here’s a breakdown of the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) 10 deadliest coal and metal/nonmetal surface mining hazards, along with tips and resources for keeping miners safe on the job.
Powered Haulage in Metal/Nonmetal Mines
Accidents involving powered haulage (such as haul trucks, water trucks, bulldozers, vertical lifts, and belt conveyors) claimed 29 lives between 2011 and 2015. These include collisions with equipment, improper lockout/tagout (LO/TO) procedures on belt conveyors, and a lack of machine guarding.
Accidents involving powered machinery resulted in 26 miner deaths between 2011 and 2015. These typically involve machines in motion, energized equipment, machine component failures, and electric and air-powered tools (including drills, power shovels, and compressors).
Powered haulage collisions killed 21 workers in coal mines between 2011 and 2015. As mines have increased in size in recent years, so have the size and number of machines used to transport people, materials, waste, and supplies. As a result, powered haulage is routinely among the deadliest hazards in coal mines.
Radar and GPS-based warning systems can help workers spot machines and the hazards they pose; however, other tools can help miners see potential hazards. DuraLabel industrial label and sign printers by Graphic Products can help employers create custom safety signs suited to mines of all sizes. Employers may also use prismatic reflective tape to increase visibility, improve wayfinding, and communicate hazards in low-light situations.
Machinery in Metal/Nonmetal Mines
Accidents involving powered machinery led to 17 metal/nonmetal miner deaths between 2011 and 2015. These typically occur while workers operate, repair, and perform maintenance on machines in a mine; as such, these accidents are easily preventable.
Slip and fall hazards are present in nearly every industry, but they’re especially dangerous in metal/nonmetal mines, which pack a lot of equipment and dangerous materials into tight spaces. Sixteen workers died in slip/fall accidents between 2011 and 2015.
These accidents are easily preventable, as well. Most slip/fall deaths occur due to a lack of PPE, unguarded holes, and extreme weather conditions. Employers can take steps to outfit their workers with fall protection and effective footwear that protect against hazards and keep employees safe in turbulent weather.
Fall/Sliding Material in Metal/Nonmetal Mines
Fifteen workers died between 2011 and 2015 due to material falling or sliding to a lower level. These usually happened due to uncovered or unsecured openings, improper or missing barricades, suspended loads, or other errors.
Workers should always conduct risk assessments before working with materials and supplies that can fall or slide on a mining site. To that end, MSHA has developed an acronym—SLAM RISKS—for workers performing a risk assessment:
Stop and Consider the Work Involved
Look and Identify the Hazards
Analyze What Needs to Be Done
Manage Safety by Developing and Implementing Controls
Remember to Look for Changes
Identify All Potential Risks
Share What You Find, and Include Others Impacted by the Job and the Risks
Know What Others on Your Jobsite are Doing
Safety is Everyone’s Job
Fall of Face, Rib, or Highwall in Coal Mines
Thirteen coal miners tragically died between 2011 and 2015 when key structural components collapsed or fell on workers. Employers can take steps to prevent these deaths by conducting pre-shift and on-shift examinations of the face, ribs, and highwall, and closing off areas when hazards are found.
Fall of Roof or Back in Coal Mines
These accidents bear a striking resemblance to the “fall of face, rib, or highwall” category; however, these collapses occur when the roof, overhead surface, or upper part of an underground mine caves in. These accidents killed eight workers between 2011 and 2015.
To cut down on these deaths going forward, employers should keep an eye out for changing conditions and conduct regular inspections of a mine’s roof and back. Employers should also develop a comprehensive roof control plan, in accordance with 30 CFR 75.221, MSHA’s standard for ensuring safe mine roofs and support systems.
Slip/Fall of a Person in a Coal Mine
Slips and falls are among the most deadly hazards miners face on the job; these hazards killed six coal miners between 2011 and 2015.
The vast majority of these resulted from improper use of fall protection. MSHA offers a website promoting the safe and effective use of fall protection; it seeks to raise awareness about proper fall protection; offers tips for staying safe on portable ladders, scaffolding, and in confined spaces; and more.
Exploding and Breaking Agents, and Fall of Face, Rib, or Highwall in Metal/Nonmetal Mines
The tenth deadliest mining hazard is actually a tie between two catastrophes in metal/nonmetal mines:
Exploding and breaking agents
Collapsing faces, ribs, or highwalls
Each killed five workers between 2011 and 2015.
Exploding and breaking agents generally happen when miners aren’t protected from the mine’s blast area, flyrock, or any gasses present on the jobsite. Communication throughout the jobsite can protect against employees being impacted by blasts and explosions, and effective respiratory protection can guard against nasty particulates and vapors.
Failing support structures also accounted for five deaths in metal/nonmetal mines in recent years. Employers can take steps to curb these numbers by posting signs that encourage miners to report any compromised structures, and by creating inspection checklists that may alert workers to structural deficiencies.
How Can Graphic Products Help?
Graphic Products provides numerous resources to improve safety in and around mines, including our free Best Practice Guide to Continuous Improvement in Mining. This guide helps improve efficiency and organization, boost employee production, and increase cooperation and teamwork throughout mines of all sizes.