In the 1946 folk song “Dark as a Dungeon” by Merle Travis, the singer laments about life working in the coal mines. “It’s dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew, / Where danger is double and pleasures are few…” Unfortunately the danger of working in the mines remains perilous in the twenty-first century – you can count it still in the top most dangerous jobs.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, the “danger” did “double” in 2010, compared to the previous year. Seventy-one miners died on the job last year, compared to 34 in 2009. Forty-eight of those deaths occurred in coal mines, and 23 occurred at metal and nonmetal operations.
Of the 71 mining fatalities reported, 23 of those victims were killed in surface mining accidents, while 48 miners died in underground mining accidents, 29 of whom were killed in the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in April. The leading cause of coal mining deaths was ignition or explosion, followed by powered haulage and roof falls. The leading cause of metal/nonmetal mining deaths was powered haulage, followed by falling or sliding material, and machinery.
This eruption of deaths is instigating greater attention to the enforcement of companies’ safety procedures.
Whenever we hear talk about “clean coal,” perhaps we should remember that mining coal is never clean. Workers in mines constantly risk their lives beneath the earth’s surface and mining fatalities are not going down.