On the heels of a flood that trapped 153 workers in a coal mine in China, an explosion in a West Virginia coal mine has killed 25 workers, with four still missing. Poisonous gases (methane and carbon monoxide) are hampering rescue efforts. But officials hope that the missing miners made it to airtight chambers that have enough oxygen for four days. A total of 31 miners were in the area during a shift change when the explosion happened.
The death toll in this incident makes it the deadliest in the US since 1984, when 27 died in a fire in a Utah mine. If the four missing miners are found to be dead, the incident will have the dubious distinction of resulting in the most miners killed since a 1970 explosion in a Kentucky mine left 38 dead. Ironically, last year the coal mining industry had a record low 34 deaths.
Update on Chinese Mine Incident
Although it appeared that the death toll in the Chinese mine incident would exceed 100, rescuers were able to drag 115 men to safety after hearing tapping on a metal pipe. There are still 38 workers missing, though.
Poor Safety Practices
What do the mining companies in the Chinese and West Virginia incidents have in common? Poor safety practices. For days before the mine flooded, managers in the Chinese mining company ignored water leaks that foreshadowed trouble. Instead, they ordered miners to step up the pace of construction to meet an October deadline.
The company that owns the West Virginia mine is one of the US’s top five coal producers and among the most profitable—but it also has a less than stellar safety record. For example, federal inspectors have fined it more than $382,000 for repeated violations involving its ventilation plan., among other things. And although the blast’s cause isn’t known yet, officials believe the mine hadn’t been properly venting highly combustible methane gas.
(Click here for information on how Canadian OHS laws regulate the hazards in the mining industry.)