Monday, January 03, 2005

Note to MSHA: Workers’ Deaths are NOT "Mishaps"

(By Confined Space guest blogger and former MSHA official, Celeste Monforton)

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) rang in the New Year with the agency’s annual announcement of the year-end tally of work-related deaths at U.S. mining operations.

The acting assistant secretary declared that fatalities in the mining industry fell to an all-time low, yet the MSHA chief’s pronouncement may be premature. A number of the deaths that occurred at mine sites are still being investigated. Whether or not we accept MSHA’s fatality count is a legitimate question, and should be explored. But for today, simply consider the belittling language used by MSHA’s chief to characterize the mining fatalities. MSHA’s news release indicates

"…16 miners died in underground mining mishaps."
Mishaps?? Mishaps?? The American Heritage Dictionary defines a “mishap” as bad luck or misfortune. I doubt the family of 39 year-old Raymond Grof would call his dreadful death at the Barrick Goldstrike mine a mishap. Mr. Grof died in a Nevada underground gold mine on August 24, 2004 when a rolling haulage vehicle pinned him against a concrete wall. MSHA’s inspectors identified a number of hazards that contributed to Mr. Grof’s death, including parking brakes that were not maintained, and broken brake indictor lights and switches. It is revolting for MSHA’s chief to dismiss an employer’s negligence and suggest that a worker’s death is simple misfortune.

Elsewhere in MSHA’s news release, the agency reports:

"Roof fall accidents in underground mines, a long-time safety nemesis for coal miners, killed three miners last year…"
Nemesis?? Nemesis?? Now, we personify roof falls? Bad roof…baaad for collapsing on that miner. Hello!! Roof falls are preventable! Someone should remind MSHA’s chief of the June 17, 2004 roof fall that killed 26-year old Eric Chaney at the Dags Branch coal mine in Pike County, Kentucky. MSHA’s accident investigators found a number of violations of safety standards, including the employer’s failure to install a warning device or barrier in the area beyond the permanent roof supports. Blaming the roof will not save miners’ lives.

As the Kentucky mine safety agency notes: All accidents are preventable; we simply fail to prevent them.