Montana is a hotbed of coal mining activity, but it comes with a cost
If you're a Montana coal miner, then you've undoubtedly heard about the legendary Smith Mine Disaster, which killed 74 miners in 1943. If you live near Bearcreek or know someone who was affected, the thought might still send chills down your spine.
Smith Mine was an extreme and usual situation, but the reality is that mining is still one of the most dangerous professions.
Coal mining accident statistics
More than half of all coal mining workers are in Bituminous coal underground mining, and the industry experiences more occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities than other segments of the coal mining industry. The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were 24.8 fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 coal mine workers in 2007.
Review the chart below to see how numbers of total coal miners and fatalities have changed in the past few decades:
|Coal Mining Fatalities|
|Year||Number of Total Miners||Fatalities|
|Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration|
Common causes of mining accidents and injuries
What makes coal mining so hazardous? Often, miners are working with heavy equipment in small spaces underground. Fires and explosions are also a constant threat to safety.
There are certain types of accidents that are prevalent in the mining industry. They include:
- Roof, longwall shield, or elevator collapse or cave-ins happen as a result of land that sinks gradually or cracks in the ceiling, walls, or floors that collapse a mine shaft and unsecured ceilings.
- Flooding is a problem because heavy rain, flash floods, and groundwater penetration can cause a mine shaft to flood rapidly and unexpectedly. If the water isn't contained quickly, the walls, ceiling, and floors could be compromised.
- Methane explosions occur because methane gas is usually a byproduct produced in the mining process. If there isn't proper ventilation, any fault or malfunction can produce a spark that ignites fumes or dust.
- Electrocution presents a risk because of the heavy electrical equipment used in mining. A worn cable or damaged plug being used in a damp workspace could produce a spark that electrocutes a worker or causes an explosion.
- Powered haulage crashes are collisions of machines that happen during transport of workers, supplies, materials or waste products.
- Slip and fall hazards are present in mines, just like in any workplace. The difference is that these are tightly confined spaces with moving equipment. The best way to protect yourself against a slip and fall is to be sure to wear personal protective equipment while working.
Common injuries that happen in coal mine accidents
Since the accidents that happen in coal mines tend to be severe, the resulting injuries can be long-lasting and catastrophic:
- Electrocution and related injuries
- Bone fractures
- Blindness or deafness
Below, we have numbers on the specific kinds of injuries in coal mining over the past few years:
Mining Industry Fatalities by Type and Year
UG = Underground
|Exploding vessels under pressure||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Exp & breaking agents||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Fall of face/rib/highwall||2||0||2||0||0||1||1||0||0||0|
|Fall of roof or back||2||0||0||0||2||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ignition/explosion of gas/dust||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Slip/fall of person||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||1|
|Step/kneel on object||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Striking or bumping||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Year to date totals||6||5||4||3||3||5||3||3||2||3|
|Combined year-end totals||11||7||8||6||5 (as of 3/3/19)|
|Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)|
Long-term occupational exposure illnesses from coal mining
In addition to the possibility of a single-occurrence accident, coal miners face health risks from exposure to a variety of environmental hazards.
- Radon: This odorless radioactive gas can cause lung cancer if you've been exposed for long periods of time.
- Mercury: Also a byproduct in mining, mercury is a heavy metal that's present in organic mineral compounds. A miner can easily ingest or inhale mercury, and it can also be absorbed through the skin. Even a small amount of mercury exposure can be life-threatening and can result in poisoning and symptoms like tremors, muscle ulcers, headaches, cardiac problems, loose teeth, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and other issues.
- Welding fumes: Miners weld metals by vaporizing it until it melts at high heat. Long-term exposure to the materials and off-gassing involved in this process can lead to pneumoconiosis, poisoning, and respiratory problems.
- Noise: As you drill with heavy machinery, there's going to be excessive unfiltered noise, which can produce temporary or permanent hearing loss.
- Lifting: In this profession, you're likely to be lifting heavy loads. Miners frequently experience back injuries, joint problems, and muscle difficulties because of excessive lifting over a long period of time.
What to do if you or a loved one were injured in a coal mining accident
Every employer in Montana is required to have workers' compensation insurance. If you've been injured or if you lost a loved one in a coal mining accident, it's important to file a claim immediately. In Montana, you're required to notify the employer within 30 days of an accident or following diagnosis of an occupational illness. You only have one year to file a workers' comp claim with the insurer.
If you're unsure of what to claim, how much you need in benefits, or what your rights are, you can contact a Montana personal injury attorney. An experienced personal injury or workers' compensation attorney will help you through the process of recovering benefits to cover the costs of medical treatment, lost wages, and death benefits for survivors in the event of a tragic coal mining accident or injury.