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US coal mining fatalities drop 60% this decade from 1990s, 43% from 2000s

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US coal mining fatalities drop 60% this decade from 1990s, 43% from 2000s

Average annual fatalities in the U.S. coal mining sector over the last decade fell by about 60% from the 1990s and nearly 43% from the 2000s.

From 2010 to 2019, there were an average 18.2 coal-related fatalities per year, according to data from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA. Between 1990 and 1999, the sector averaged 45.4 fatalities per year, which dropped to 31.8 from 2000 to 2009.

There were 20 deaths in the sector in 2013, but annual fatalities have not subsequently totaled more than 16. As of Dec. 30, the MSHA had recorded 11 deaths related to coal mining in 2019, the second-lowest since 1900 behind eight recorded fatalities in 2016.

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"Safety is an area of constant focus where, in addition to complying with the regulations that govern mining, our industry has taken voluntary steps to implement best practices that encourage a culture of safety," Ashley Burke, senior vice president of communications for the National Mining Association, wrote in an email.

Burke also cited the association's voluntary CORESafety program. The framework of the program was created in 2011, and it uses a risk-based management system and "emphasizes accident prevention." In 2017, participating companies did not report a single fatality.

"The advanced technologies that are now employed across industry play an important role as well, increasing automation and supporting enhanced monitoring of operators and equipment," Burke said. "Everything from autonomous vehicles to drones and virtual reality mapping – even changes in mining techniques – all add to a mining environment that offers more predictability, data and safeguards than ever before."

The most recent fatality was a Dec. 23 incident where a coal miner died at a Murray Energy Corp. operation after sustaining injuries while helping repair a beltline. Another worker at Murray Energy's Paradise #9 mine in Kentucky was killed in July, in an event classified as an "ignition or explosion of gas or dust," according to the MSHA.

Two people also died at Alliance Resource Partners LP and Blackhawk Mining LLC operations this year, while one was killed at a Consol Energy Inc. mine.

In 2019, four coal workers were killed in each of West Virginia and Kentucky, two died while working at Pennsylvania operations and one died in Illinois.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Labor wrote in a statement that the MSHA is always working with mine owners, operators and workers to educate them on ways to improve health and safety. The administration has awarded $31.5 million in state grants to provide such training to more than 500,000 miners and contractors since January 2017.

"While it's great to see fewer fatalities, the number we always strive for is zero," the spokesperson said.

David Zatezalo, assistant secretary for mine safety and health, said in a November release that operators have worked to eliminate safety and health hazards. Out of more than 13,000 mining operations across the country, none met the criteria for pattern violations of mine health and safety rules for the fifth year in a row. If an operator had met the criteria, the mine would be subject to more scrutiny from regulators.