Mining Safety

At least 25 miners have been confirmed dead in an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia. The tragedy is being described as the worst U.S. mining disaster in more than two decades. Check out Ken Ward’s Coal Tattoo blog at the Charleston West Virginia Gazette for the latest on the Massey disaster. Just a week ago Workers Comp Insider blog had a timely post titled Mining safety: not just for China. It was prompted by the tragic story of 153 Chinese mine workers trapped underground in a flooded mine. In the past two days some 115 of the miners trapped for more than a week in the flooded Wangjialing mine in China’s northern Shanxi province miraculously have been pulled out alive. Sadly latest reports suggest rescue workers searching for survivors have also found five dead. Workers Comp Insider notes that while China’s mining industry is the world’s deadliest the U.S. has made considerable progress in mining safety over the years. It cites Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) figures showing more than 1,000 annual mining fatalities through 1947, dropping to double digits since 1985. Last year – 2009 – was the safest year in U.S. mining history with just 34 mining deaths. Still, some question whether this is enough of an improvement. From insurers’ perspective, in its 2010 Mining Market Review, broker Willis noted that insurance of U.S. coal mines is one of the most challenging and uniquely specialist classes of property insurance requiring specialist knowledge from carriers. “To understand the challenges facing insurers it is clearly important to understand the physical exposures inherent in the very process of coal production – but it is also important to understand the history of the U.S. coal industry and the outside forces beyond the control of the mine operator that can, and have, dramatically impacted the ability of coal mines to withstand loss,† Willis said.

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