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Mine safety agency steps up efforts after deadly January

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The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration will ramp up its enforcement, education and outreach efforts in light of a “troubling” number of coal miner fatalities early in 2016.

A 53-year-old miner was killed when he became entangled in a moving underground conveyor in West Virginia on Jan. 4; a 31-year-old miner died after falling material pinned him to a mine floor in Pennsylvania on Jan. 16; and a 36-year-old miner was fatally injured when he was pinned between a continuous mining machine and a coal rib in Kentucky on Jan. 19, the agency said Wednesday in a statement.

By comparison, 11 coal miners were killed in all of 2015, with the leading causes of death being powered haulage and machinery accidents, according to the agency.

“In just the first three weeks of 2016, and after the safest year in mining history, the coal industry has experienced three fatalities in three separate mining accidents, the highest number of coal accidents to occur in the same time period since January 2006,” Joseph Main, assistant secretary of Labor for mine safety and health, said in the statement.

Fifteen miners lost their lives between Jan. 2, 2006, and Jan. 19, 2006, according to the agency.

“In light of declining coal market conditions, we all need to be mindful that effective safety and health protections that safeguard our nation's coal miners need to be in place every day at every mine in the country,” Mr. Main said.

The agency sent out an alert to industry stakeholders about the fatalities this month, with specific instructions on how to to avoid such deaths. For example, MSHA instructed employers and miners to always identify safety hazards before beginning any task, never perform work on a moving conveyor belt, and ensure machines are blocked from moving or restarting before performing maintenance or repairs to avoid fatal injuries such as miners becoming entangled in a moving underground belt.

“All miners deserve to work their shifts and return home at the end of the day, safe and healthy,” he said. “To that end, the Mine Safety and Health Administration plans to ramp up its targeted enforcement, education and outreach efforts to respond to the troubling number of mining fatalities that have occurred so far this year.”