Forty-two miners died in fiscal year 2023, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). That’s 10 more than the 2022 total.
This marks the highest spike in miner fatalities since 2014 when the total number was 43, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The number of mining fatalities has been on a mostly downward trend since the early 1980s and this year’s spike has left MSHA’s leaders feeling troubled.
3% increase in new hires for FY 2023
Law firm Seyfarth Shaw said that MSHA Assistant Secretary Chris Williamson has publicly stated, “I don’t think there is just one thing that is driving it … There are a number of issues and it’s a culmination of all those things.”
One of those issues could be a 3% increase in the number of new miners in FY 2023. New workers in any industry could be more prone to severe workplace injuries and deaths without proper training.
As Seyfarth Shaw pointed out, a robust training system to acclimate new employees to hazards along with “a path to report perceived hazards that can then be promptly addressed and corrected” is probably the best remedy to address this issue.
Enforcement alone isn’t the answer
Williamson acknowledged that enforcement alone won’t solve this problem, especially considering that the number of MSHA inspections returned “to pre-COVID levels at the same time fatalities have increased.”
This may mean that MSHA could invest in compliance assistance while at the same time increasing its enforcement efforts.
Agency’s resources stretched thin
However, whether the agency “will have the resources to tackle each of these avenues remains an unanswered question” as it’s already engaged in multiple rulemaking efforts ranging from mobile equipment safety to respirable silica issues.
Further, Seyfarth Shaw stated that “Congress does not appear ready to provide the funding levels” needed to achieve all of MSHA’s goals. That means the agency’s resources will be stretched thin as it moves ahead with its efforts.