- Mine deaths
October 1, 2004The Charleston Gazette
FOR the second time in two months, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration may be fiddling with on-the-job deaths in a way that would make mine-related fatalities appear fewer than they really are.
Last week, 63-year-old Harlen Ott of Mannington died while running a bulldozer for Wilson & Wilson, a contractor for American Bituminous Power Partners. Investigators are not sure exactly what happened, but an autopsy showed that he had suffered some kind of injury, possibly caused by the machine.
In July, 27-year-old Brian Castle of Bob White died on his way to work at a Mystic Energy Inc. mine near Wharton. His pickup collided with the rear wheels of a coal truck on a company haul road and was flipped over an embankment.
So far, MSHA has counted neither man in the official count of mine-related deaths.
Earlier this year, the United Mine Workers suggested that MSHA attributes fewer deaths to mining to make the industry look safer. The UMW uses those statistics in its bargaining, so it has good reason to press that issue. But companies also have an interest in pressing the other way to keep deaths out of the official count.
A worker in any industry can have a car crash or other fatal accident on the job site; but mining has a special and traumatic history. Thats all the more reason for MSHA officials to proceed thoroughly and honestly when compiling mine fatality statistics.
Mining fatalities are few compared to the days when communities lost hundreds of people at a time in single explosions. Decades of regulation have made a big difference. But coal mining is still a dangerous business. People are still killed, sometimes below ground, sometimes above. Even when companies follow every rule, there can still be a tragedy. Counting all work-related deaths does not necessarily imply that a company did something wrong.
The industry is not made safer by fiddling with the true number of deaths related to the work miners perform.___________________________________________________________
United States Mine Rescue Association
- Mine deaths
Utah's coal mine tragedy killed six miners and three rescuers. West
Virginia's 2006 Sago tragedy killed 12. America was shaken, and
vowed still more mine safety rigors.
Yet during the same period, thousands upon thousands of coal diggers
perished inside China's treacherous underground mines. Their deaths
cause only a tiny fraction of the public notice triggered by U.S.
"Mine safety in China is about where we were in the United States in
the 1800s," Phil Smith, a United Mine Workers spokesman, said after
the Sago tragedy. "There is little or no regard by the companies for
their workers. Their only goal is for production."
The latest underground tragedy in China came when a rain-swollen
river flooded two coal mines Aug. 23, trapping 181 miners. Chinese
officials accepted no responsibility, calling it a "natural
In 2005, the Beijing government reported that 5,986 Chinese coal
miners died in accidents a death rate more than 100 times higher
than America's. But far more fatalities probably go unreported.
Labor rights publications such as the China Labor Bulletin,
published in Hong Kong, estimate the real number of mining deaths in
China may be 20,000 a year.
Timothy Weston of AsiaMedia at the University of California-Los
Angeles, observed: "The drama in Utah received wall-to-wall
saturation coverage in the American media. But the far more
horrendous Chinese coal mine disaster received merely sidebar-style
coverage from most news outlets."
Chinese reporters face danger. Beijing reporter Lan Chengzhang was
beaten to death Jan. 9 after he arrived at an illegal coal mine near
the northern Chinese city of Datong. The operator of that small mine
was convicted of organizing the attack and sentenced to life in
prison in June.
Cheap but unsafe Chinese imports attract wide attention in U.S. news
these days. Yet few Americans think about repressive working
conditions that let Chinese companies produce such cheap products by
paying their workers pennies an hour to work in unsafe conditions.
The exploding Chinese economy depends on coal-fueled power plants
for the vast majority of its electricity. Since 2000, coal
production has more than doubled. More miners probably died in China
in the past five years than died in the United States since 1900.
American mine deaths are horrible, as West Virginia sadly knows. But
it's strange that America merely shrugs about gruesome fatalities
elsewhere that are hundreds of times worse.