Safety measures, layoffs contribute to lower mining fatality rate, officials say

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WYMT) - Mining fatalities are down in Kentucky. But does that mean the coal industry is getting safer?

Four Kentucky coal miners were killed in 2012 - a 50 percent drop from the previous year when the Commonwealth led the country with eight.

"I think we've really concentrated on reducing injuries and fatalities," said Dave Blankenship, the mine safety director for TECO Coal Corp. "I think it's due to a lot of the improved training, improved management strategies and of course I think the equipment continues to get safer and safer."

But there are also fewer people working in the coal industry.

Statistics from the Kentucky Coal Association officials show more than three thousand miners were laid off in 2012 in eastern Kentucky alone.

Ergo, the fewer the miners, the less the likelihood of an accident.

"And a lot of it also in communication with the (coal) industry and regulators at the state and federal level," KCA president Bill Bissett said. "We are seeing an improvement, but we do still have more work to do."

Blankenship credited Kentucky's mine inspection and enforcement agencies, but said miners are responsible for following safety procedures on their own.

"No one controls their safety more than the miners themselves," Blankenship said. "No company, no supervisor can make a miner safe. Only a miner can do that. They have to be able to control their work environment and their work equipment."

He said the ultimate goal was zero mine fatalities.

Kentucky's four mining fatalities in 2012 ranked second to West Virginia's seven. Nineteen coal miners were killed in 2012 nationwide.

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