Mining has been an established industry in this country since the late 1700s. Unfortunately for miners, it is a very dangerous job. We’ve seen mining accidents and recovery efforts play out on the news and recently, a movie was made about a well-known mining accident. Whether underground or surface mining, miners must deal with working in environments that expose them to hazards such as collapsing structures, falling debris, elevated heights, extended depths and heavy machinery. Because mining is so dangerous, the industry is heavily regulated. Whereas the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is dedicated to workplaces that span a vastly wide range, the mining industry is specifically regulated by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). MSHA works to reduce injuries, illnesses and death through strong enforcement, education, training and technical support to the mining industry.
In the event of a deadly or serious accident at a mining facility, MSHA requires immediate notification and has the authority to stop all mining activities to investigate the incident. MSHA investigators are very good at their jobs and usually can identify the cause of an incident. More importantly, MSHA will usually find a regulation that was violated or ignored. Sadly, the mining operator’s failure to follow federal regulations dealing with miner safety is commonly a direct or circumstantial cause of an accident. Fortunately, MSHA statistics indicate that the number of mining fatalities have been steadily decreasing; however, any preventable death is one too many. MSHA estimated that approximately 366,584 people worked in the mining industry in 2014. During that same year MSHA issued more than 121,400 Citations and Orders. Through MSHA’s inspection and enforcement efforts, there have been less than 50 U.S. mining fatalities per year in the last five years. While the falling number of deaths is encouraging, it is extremely difficult to tell a family that they lost a loved one because the mining operator failed to follow clear and simple regulations.
To be fair to the industry, not all accidents are caused solely by a mining operator’s failure to follow regulations. Oftentimes another entity either caused or contributed to a fatal incident. Mining operations require multiple contractors to be onsite. Although the mining operator is ultimately responsible, contractors can also engage in conduct or fail to follow safety procedures that cause or lead to injury or a fatality.
In addition to contractors, entities are often called onsite to maintain or erect structures that are essential to mining operations. A faulty installation or inspection can lead to a collapse or other incidents that cause injury. Finally, a defectively designed product could also lead to injury or death at mining facilities. Just like OSHA focuses on the employer following an accident, MSHA focuses on the mine operator. A thorough investigation into every aspect of an incident is necessary to properly advise a client or their family.
We currently have mining accident cases filed and are investigating others. One case in Alabama resulted in a significant brain injury requiring our client to obtain 24-hour assistance with activities of daily living for the remainder of his life. We are also currently investigating an incident that occurred outside the state of Alabama resulting in the loss of life. In each instance, MSHA cited the mine operator for violations of regulations designed to prevent the very accident that occurred. In one of these cases, an entity other than the mine operator also engaged in conduct that caused and/or contributed to the fatality-causing event. We will keep you updated on the progress of these litigations. If you need any information at this time, contact Kendall Dunson, a lawyer in our Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Kendall.Dunson@beasleyallen.com.
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