Letter to the Editor on Mine Safety, Workplace Fatalities
Des Plaines, IL (April 13, 2010) — The Chicago Tribune
435 N. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
Letter to the Editor:
The deadly explosion at the Massey Energy Company’s Upper Big Branch mine that took the lives of 29 people in West Virginia last week are stark reminders that, even in the 21st Century, underground mining in the U.S. can be dangerous. The 32,000 member safety, health and environmental (SH&E) professionals of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) express their deepest sympathy to the families, friends and co-workers of these miners. Our members work hard every day to make sure workers are safe and healthy worldwide in every kind of workplace, including mines. They know first-hand what a death means to families when, for whatever reason, safety and health measures fail or are not appropriately implemented.
It will take months, possibly years, to determine the root cause of the Massey tragedy. Following the Sago mine disaster in January 2006, ASSE supported the measures Congress took to improve mine safety, to provide better protections for underground miners and greater resources for Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for enforcing safety standards and for more research on how best to protect miners. As the Senate hearings begin, we ask that the clock not be turned backward. From 1906 through 1911, the year ASSE was established, an average of 2,645 coal miners died each year in the U.S., a staggering 13, 228 people in five years. It wasn’t until 1941 that the U.S. Mines was given inspection authority, 30 years after it was established. Even with the authority, more needs to be done.
ASSE and its members hope that what is not lost in the wake of this horrible tragedy is the need to address all workplace tragedies – workplace fatalities that occur every day across this nation. In 2008, 5071 workers lost their lives in workplace incidents across the nation. That is nearly 14 workers every day who are lost to their families, friends and co-workers. The shock and grief families and communities suffer from this workplace mining disaster are evident.
As the cause for the Massey tragedy is investigated, ASSE urges that we work together to find the reasons why nearly 14 other workers die each day and to prevent these incidents from happening again. Perhaps we can begin by examining why the U.S. workplace fatality rate in 2007 was 3.8 per 100,000 workers while in the United Kingdom the rate was 0.8, more than four times less than this nation’s. In the same way Congress, our federal safety agencies, the occupational safety and health community and the public can come together to address the Massey tragedy, we can also come together to stop continuous daily loss of life in our nation’s workplaces.
March 25, 2011, marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire that killed 146 women and men garment workers in New York City, a workplace tragedy that led to the founding of ASSE eight months later in New York City. It also began much of this nation’s ongoing commitment to workplace safety and workers compensation laws. After 100 years of what has been overall a great improvement in workplace safety, we must not ignore the preventable personal tragedies happening in our workplaces every day. And we must not allow another tragedy like the Upper Big Branch mining explosion to again take away the lives of miners/workers – people with families and friends – who will never make it home again.
C. Christopher Patton, CSP