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MSHA Administrator: The Nation's Mine Safety Is Improving

Feb. 6, 2012
In a Feb. 2 speech, MSHA Administrator Joseph A. Main said the agency's enforcement efforts, combined with increased compliance within the industry, "are making a difference and making mines safer for the nation's miners."
Main made his remarks at the West Virginia Coal Association's 39th Annual Mining Symposium in Charleston, W.Va., to discuss MSHA's mine safety and health initiatives. He cited injury and fatality statistics to back up his claims of improved safety: According to preliminary data, 37 miners died in 2011, representing the second lowest fatality count since statistics were recorded. In contrast, 71 miners – including 29 in the Upper Big Branch disaster – died in 2010. 2009, meanwhile, had a record low of 34 deaths.

Main noted that the first year the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 was in effect, 273 miners died.

"As low as the fatality numbers have come in recent years, we all know that one death is one too many; that mining deaths are preventable; and there is more to be done to protect the nation's miners," he stressed.

Main said he sought an aggressive path to improve mine safety and health when he took MSHA's reins in late 2009. When the deadly Upper Big Branch Mine explosion occurred in April 2010, however, many stakeholders criticized the nation’s mining safety and called for tougher regulations and enforcement.

"It unquestionably shook the very foundation of mine safety and health, and caused all of us to take a deeper look at the weaknesses in the safety net expected to protect the nation's miners," Main said of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.

Mining for Safety

Main highlighted the following MSHA initiatives, among others, that he said have impacted the nation's mining safety:

· Impact Inspections – Following the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, MSHA conducted 387 impact inspections and issued 7,655 citations, orders and safeguards. These inspections, Main said, have led to an improvement in overall compliance. Violations per inspection hour are down 11 percent after an initial impact inspection, significant and substantial violation rates are down 18 percent and the total self-reported lost-time injury rate at these mines is down 18 percent.
· Pattern of Violations (POV) Process – MSHA issuedtwo POV notices and 28 potential pattern of violations (PPOV) since November 2010. The PPOV process led to declines in violations and withdrawal orders at many mines, Main said. In addition, the lost-time injury rate at these mines has dropped 39 percent.
· Improved Compliance – In 2011, MSHA inspected approximately 14,000 mines and issued 157,894 citations and orders, down from 171,373 in 2010.

Main also asserted that, for the nation's mine safety to continue to improve, mine operators must take more responsibility.

"I believe more can be done to ensure that the nation's miners can go to work, put in their shifts, and return home safe and healthy each day," he said.

View Main's full remarks here (PDF).

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