CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia led the nation in coal deaths in 2012, accounting for seven of the 19 miners killed on the job in U.S. coal mines, preliminary federal figures show.
Kentucky had four coal mining deaths, followed by Alabama with two. Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia each reported one death, according to the figures from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
The national death toll declined from 21 in 2011. The record low for coal mine deaths in a single year was 18 in 2009.
There also were 17 metal and nonmetal mining deaths, up from 16 in 2011. These fatalities bring the overall death toll in the mining industry to 36.
The Charleston Gazette reported the figures Thursday.
MSHA plans to finalize several mine safety initiatives this year, according to its regulatory agenda. They include a proposed rule that would require proximity detection devices that shut down certain underground mining equipment when workers get too close.
Another proposed rule to be finalized addresses how to handle increased enforcement at mining operations that exhibit a pattern of violations.
A third proposed rule is aimed at reducing black lung, an irreversible disease, by controlling coal dust in mines. More than 10,000 miners died nationwide from black lung between 1995 and 2004.
“We hope that they can actually get those rules in place by the timelines they have laid out,” United Mine Workers spokesman Phil Smith told the newspaper. “Coal miners have been waiting for these things for a long time.”
The U.S. coal industry had its deadliest year in nearly two decades in 2010, when 48 miners were killed nationwide, 29 of them in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.