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U.S. mining fatalities in 2012 near all-time low; Pennsylvania ends year with none

| Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Mining fatality rates in 2012 reached an all-time low for the second year in a row, federal Mine Safety and Health Administration officials said on Thursday.

MSHA chief Joe Main said that 36 miners died in work-related accidents — 19 in coal mines and 17 in metal and nonmetal mines. None of the deaths was in Pennsylvania.

“More miners than ever before are going home to their family and friends safe and healthy at the end of their shifts,” Main said in a statement. “Mining deaths are preventable.”

The government calculates fatality rates based on the number of mining deaths per 200,000 hours worked. Records date to 1900, MSHA officials said.

Of the 36 fatalities — one more than the 2009 historic low of 35 — seven died in West Virginia, five in Kentucky, three each in New York and Alabama, two each in Montana and Florida, and one each in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia.

Main credited the increased enforcement of regulations at mines with “troubling compliance histories” for lowering the rates, along with renewed focus on safety training and other factors.

In Pennsylvania, the mining industry ended 2010 without a fatality for the first time and duplicated the feat in 2012.

A surface miner died in an accident in 2011, officials said. No underground miners have died in the state since June 2009, when Robert Maust, 54, of Uniontown died as a falling rock hit him in Consol Energy Inc.'s Bailey Mine in Wind Ridge, Greene County.

Joseph Sbaffoni, the state Bureau of Mine Safety director, said the improved safety record resulted from a commitment by miners, mine operators and state safety officials.

In 2009, Sbaffoni said, the state formed the Coal Mine Safety Board that included officials from the Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance and the United Mine Workers of America. The board identifies safety issues and acts as a group to fix them quickly, he said.

“It's the culture,” Sbaffoni said. “Fatal accidents aren't accepted in Pennsylvania. The companies here are very dedicated to safety and to see that every worker goes home at the end of shifts. ... Legislation has done a lot, but to get to zero fatalities you need a commitment from every employee on the property.”

Main said fatality rates could go lower. More than half of the mining deaths last year involved miners with less than one year of experience at their mines or on the jobs they performed, he said.

“These numbers underscore that effective and appropriate training, particularly task training, needs to be provided to miners before they perform a new task,” Main said.

Chris Togneri is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He canbe reached at 412-380-5632or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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