Pennsylvania residents may recall media reports about a coal dust explosion in West Virginia that claimed the lives of 29 mineworkers in 2010. Following the tragedy, the Mine Safety and Health Administration began to conduct what are referred to as special impact inspections that are designed to hold mining operations that flout safety regulations accountable. The safety agency says that an increase in the number of this type of inspection was largely responsible for a dramatic reduction in the number of mineworkers who lost their lives in workplace accidents in 2015.
Some industry experts say that the falling fatality rate was more likely a reflection of falling natural gas and oil prices that has significantly reduced demand for coal, but the MSHA may point to the Sago mine disaster as evidence of the need for special impact inspections. The West Virginia coal mining facility where 12 miners were killed after being trapped underground had been cited for violating safety regulations an astonishing 270 times prior to the 2006 shaft collapse.
The MSHA was founded in 1978 to address the perils of mining work, and 242 miners lost their lives in on-the-job accidents during the safety agency’s first year. However, fatality rates have been falling gradually since then, and the 28 mineworkers killed in 2015 is the lowest number of deaths the agency has ever recorded.
Workers in Pennsylvania are generally unable to file lawsuits against their employers when they are injured in an on-the-job accident if they have received financial benefits under the state’s workers’ compensation program for such injuries. However, a personal injury attorney may advise clients to forego those benefits and instead file lawsuits against employers that have acted in a particularly negligent manner or showed a willful intent to cause harm to their workers.
Source: The New York Times, “The Sago Mine Disaster,” Editorial, Jan. 5, 2006