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Mining deaths in 2015 the lowest on record

Miners in Tennessee have extremely dangerous jobs, and the perils of this kind of work prompted the federal government to establish the Mine Safety and Health Administration in 1978. More than 200 mineworkers lost their lives in job-related accidents during the federal safety agency's first year of operation, but fatality numbers have been gradually falling ever since. The number of mining deaths fell to 45 in 2014, and the agency reports that the 2015 death toll of 28 mineworkers is the lowest ever recorded.

This figure is particularly notable because mining accidents can be catastrophic. A 2010 coal dust explosion in West Virginia claimed the lives of 29 mineworkers, and the Sago mine disaster, which also occurred in West Virginia, left 13 miners trapped underground in 2006. Only one of the trapped miners survived. Some observers point out that the lower number of mining fatalities merely reflects reduced activity in the sector as plunging fossil fuel prices make oil and natural gas more attractive than coal for power generation, but the MSHA believes that the drop was largely the result of increased inspection activity and stricter enforcement of safety regulations.

The MSHA began to conduct special impact inspections after the 2010 West Virginia accident, and these efforts were stepped up during 2015. The agency says that these inspections are often conducted at mining facilities that have a history of safety violations and workplace accidents. The Sago mine disaster is an example of why this kind of inspection is necessary. In the two years prior to the accident, the facility involved had been cited for safety violations an astounding 270 times.

The Tennessee workers' compensation program provides benefits designed to help sick or injured workers meet certain expenses while they are unable to earn a paycheck. Attorneys with experience in this area could provide assistance to claimants with the sometimes confusing paperwork involved and the medical documentation required.

Source: The New York Times, "The Sago Mine Disaster", Editorial, Jan. 5, 2006

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