Early last week, this newspaper ran a story pointing out the number of workers who died last year in work-related accidents at mining operations nationwide was the second-lowest on record.
Then came word later in the week that a miner at the Emerald Mine in Franklin Township was fired and then charged with smoking a cigarette while working in the underground mine.
A police affidavit states there were 117 individuals working in the mine during the shift when the alleged smoking incident took place, and, moreover, the document says methane gas was present in Emerald Mine at the time.
How lucky are those miners? If that cigarette had triggered an explosion, the statistics released earlier by the Mine Safety and Health Administration would have needed to have been updated considerably, we fear.
The man deserves the presumption of innocence, yet we find it incredible that this individual, who taught other miners about the dangers of smoking, would, as authorities allege, put his fellow miners in such jeopardy for a quick nicotine hit.
This incident aside, what impressed us about the MSHA report was Pennsylvania, which ranks fourth in coal production nationwide, saw its third consecutive year of zero coal mine fatalities. While that is a remarkable statistic and something this state should champion, we have to agree with Joe Main, head of the MSHA and a Greene County native, who said, “While mining deaths and injuries, due to the efforts of all in the mining industry, have reached historic lows, more actions are needed to prevent mining injuries, illnesses and deaths.”
No one questions that descending 500 feet below ground and operating machinery that extracts coal by the ton is an extremely dangerous occupation, no matter how many safety measures have been passed and put in place.
According to MSHA, the leading cause of fatalities involved powered haulages, which include motor and rail cars, trucks, conveyors, shuttle cars, front-end loaders and cranes. Accidents involving powered haulages claimed the lives of 10 miners.
Other causes included machinery accidents, which killed six; slip or fall accidents, which also claimed six lives; and rib falls, which killed three miners.
It also was noted that in 2010, the number of fatalities jumped as the industry recorded 71 deaths: 48 at coal operations and 23 at metal and nonmetal operations. Of the coal mining fatalities, 29 resulted from the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia.
Fatalities are preventable, and MSHA has undertaken a number of measures in the last three years to prevent mining deaths. They include increased enforcement through impact inspections at mines with poor compliance histories, enhanced pattern-of-violations actions and special initiatives, such as “Rules to Live By,” that focus on the most common causes of mining deaths.
One UMW official said even one death is too many. One hundred seventeen at Emerald would have been catastrophic.