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Mine Safety Official Says Fatality-Free Year Achievable

Archival photo of Kentucky coal miners headed to work.

It’s never happened, but a leading official in the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration believes a fatality-free year in coal mining is achievable. 

Joe Main, who the Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Mine Safety and Health Administration was in Lexington for the Central Appalachian Regional Work Safety and Health Symposium. Just forty years ago, before the U-S Mine Safety Act, Main says a miner was killed every day. Last year, he says, 36 American miners died with 20 of them claimed by coal.

“And for those who say we can’t have fatal free industry, I’ll say this.  The folks sitting in these rooms in 1977 was looking at the number of deaths to get to zero, starting at 273.   The distance we have to go is far less than what they had to go,” Main said.

So far this year, there have been 23 mining deaths with 13 in the coal industry.  Kentucky has had two mining-related fatalities. The federal official says equal enforcement of mine safety regulations can help reduce mining fatalities. Main says consistent enforcement of safety rules is critical.

“When I arrived at MSHA, there was a number of complaints about consistency of our enforcement and one of the things that we did fairly quickly was to implement a new training program for field office supervisors,” Main said. “And for folks that work in the coal mines, you understand one thing when I say this, our field office supervisors is the same as a section boss in getting things done.”

Main says they are improving mine safety.  Over the past two years, the federal regulator says there’s been an 18-percent improvement in compliance with government rules.

Stu Johnson is a reporter/producer at WEKU in Lexington, Kentucky.
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