The United States is the biggest coal producer in the world. It has an extensive history of mining dating back to the 1800’s. Mining paved the way for movement and growth of people from different towns and cities. Mining brought money but also has taken thousands of human lives.
Overview of the Coal Mine Safety
January 2, 2006 was a reminder of the hazards that coal miners face everyday. Twelve miners died in an explosion at the Sago mine in West Virginia. Lightning hit and penetrated the ground filled with methane gas causing the blast which trapped the miners in rubbles. Rescuers were able to act eleven hours after when authorities have made sure that the area is safe.
Twelve is such a small number to consider when we review the tragic records in this industry.
In 1925, the total fatalities in mine incidents reached 2,518. The average annual death between 1946 to 1950 was 1,054 with annual average injuries of 63,367. The figures significantly dropped in 1976 to 1980 with 254 deaths and injuries of 41,220. Between 1990 to 1999, deaths were at 93 and injuries at 21,351. There were only 25 fatalities in the mining sector in 2005.
The fall of the numbers can be attributed to several factors. It can be explained by decreased employment of the industry from 749,000 in 1925 to 110,000 at present. The figures
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are consistent with the dropped of the fatality rate to 0.25 per thousand from 3.36 per thousand in 1925. ( Rappaport, 2006)
Miners are also highly probable victims of debilitating occupational diseases such as the black lung or the coal worker’s pneumoconiosis. Black lung claims 1,000 lives on average annually. The disease is preceded by years of difficulty breathing and weakness.
The drop in number of casualties is attributable to the shift from underground to surface mining, mechanization, long walls, controlling coal dust, monitoring methane gas, adequate support roofs, and avoiding equipment which may spark. ( Rappaport, 2006)
Regulations through legislations and government bodies are also in placed to monitor and implement safety precautions for the coal miners. The federal government is spending more that 700 Million dollars to run two agencies which oversee mining activities.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration or MSHA aims to implement the provisions of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act which promotes a balanced of enforcement, education, training, and technical support. This law was last amended in 1977.
MSHA’s actions are coordinated with the Department of Labor and the US Congress oversees the body. MSHA conducts inspection of underground mines at least four times a year. (Lauriski, 2002)
OSHA or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration targets inspection of firms with the worst accident records.
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The agencies have been under strong criticism by miner unions. They attack the inactivity of the regulatory bodies which hire one inspector per four coal mines. The miners have also urged the MSHA to concentrate inspection to the mines where accidents frequently occur. There have been also projects by both agencies which do not have considerable progress.
The lawmakers are also under scrutiny for dropping legislative proposals which might have improved the technology and worker’s safety of the coal mining industry. The Congress though has enabled the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response which focuses on emergency preparedness and training. (Rappaport, 2006)
Human Resource Management
A group of experts including psychologist, sociologists, mining engineers and safety engineers conducted a study on the evolving mining work force.
The mining industry forms part of the global trend of an aging workforce. There are certain needs when it comes to training and safety concern specific for the variable profiles of the workers for the industry. They have profiled the different generations of workers and came up with the following summary:
- The Veterans (1992-1943) who are patriotic, loyal, fiscally conservative, with faith in institutions
- The Baby Boomers (1943-1960) who are idealistic, competitive, questions authority, “me” generation
- Generation X ( 1960-1980) who are techno savvy, diverse, independent, skeptical, and entrepreneurial
- Generation Nexters(1980-2000) who are independent spenders, globally concerned, health conscious, cyber literate
The majority of the mining work force belongs to the Baby Boomers or the Generation X.
The study cites the different training approaches implemented by the mining companies to their workers. The report pointed out the importance of investment in human infrastructure is more important than bigger capital.
The miners must be educated and trained according to their needs as dictated by their age and role in the mining process. Proper education will lead to a safer environment for the workers. (Kowalski, et al)
The development of new technologies to avoid explosions of mine and equipping the miners of appropriate life-saving devices should also be part of the main focus to address the crisis in the industry.
Legislations are mere papers which one can throw to the garbage. It is of utmost importance that these laws be strictly implemented to protect the welfare of the persons who make the industry flourish. Budget should be spent to send people to inspect the mines which are accident prone areas. The big chunk of the money must be allocated to train people for emergency response and equip the miners of breathing devices which they may use in case of unforeseen events.
There is nothing that we can do about the death tolls. We should learn from the past and focus on the actions today, and determine the paths that we will take in the future.
Kowalski, Kathleen et al. The evolving mining workforce: training issues. Retrieved October 10,
2006 from www.cdc.gov/niosh/mining/pubs/pdfs
Lauriski, Dave(October 2002). Mining safety supervision in the United States.
Retrieved October 9, 2006 from http://www.msha.gov/media/speeches/2002/10102002.html
Rappaport, Edward.(June 2006) CRS report for Congress: coal mine safety. Retrieved October
11, 2006 from http://ncseonline.org/NLE/CRSreports/06Jul/RS22461.pdf
_________________. Injury trends in mining. Retrieved October 11, 2006 from www.msha.gov