December 6 marks National Miners Day, which is a day to recognize the hard work and contributions of the workers in the mining industry. Without miners extracting raw materials, there would not be iron, coal, minerals, and metals that fuel various industries. In 2009, the U.S. Congress established National Miners Day to honor the accomplishments of miners because of the important, yet dangerous, work that they do.
What are the Health Risks of Mining?
Mining is a dangerous occupation. Work conditions for miners have improved greatly. For many years, miners have been going down into the earth to mine for coal, copper, gold, silver, iron, and many other valuable materials. Many miners work underground in tight spaces with powerful equipment for extracting raw materials. Surface mining is also not without risk as mining techniques often involve the use of explosives. Despite safety regulations, work accidents happen. Miners are susceptible to the following:
- Burns: From fires, explosions, welding, and electrical accidents.
- Cancer: Caused by exposure to chemicals or carcinogenic particles.
- Dehydration: Miners often work in hot conditions, wearing heavy protective clothing, which can quickly lead to dehydration.
- Electrocution: Proper lockout/tagout procedures must be followed to avoid electrocution and other related injuries.
- Eye Injuries: Flying debris from power tools, welding, or explosions can all cause severe eye injuries.
- Falls: Falls can happen on any slippery surface or from scaffolding, ladders, and equipment.
- Heat Exhaustion: Working in tight spaces that are difficult to ventilate can cause heat exhaustion and other heat stress illnesses.
- Hypothermia: Wet clothing and wind conditions contribute to hypothermia. Temperatures do not need to be below freezing for hypothermia to occur.
- Hearing Loss: Long-term exposure to loud heavy machinery can cause occupational hearing loss as can an isolated event, like an explosion.
- Musculoskeletal Disorders: Sprains and strains from lifting, bending, and twisting.
- Poisonous Fumes: Produced from byproducts of mining.
- Respiratory Illnesses: Inhaling dust while mining can damage the lungs, and symptoms may not appear for many years.
- Struck-By and Caught-Between Accidents: Mining sites are full of vehicles transporting materials and other heavy equipment, such as cranes. Miners can be struck by or caught in between vehicles or moving cargo.
Common Injuries and Illnesses Afflicting Miners
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), coal miners are more likely to be severely injured at work than in other industries. A miner is also more likely to suffer a fatal injury at a rate that is almost six times higher for the average employee. Common injuries among miners include:
- Cuts and lacerations
- Back sprains and strains
- Broken bones and fractures
- Knee and shoulder sprains and strains
- Occupational hearing loss
Severe injuries that inflict damage to the head, neck, or spinal cord are not as common, but when they occur, they are devastating and life altering. A miner cannot continue working after a serious injury. Common illnesses among miners include:
- Black lung disease
- Respiratory illnesses
What is Black Lung Disease?
Black lung disease is a lung condition common among coal miners. Inhaling coal dust while working irritates the lung tissue. As the body attempts to rid itself of the irritants, the lung tissue becomes inflamed. Over time, this inflammation causes scarring in the lungs, known as fibrosis, which makes it difficult to breathe. Minimal scar tissue from dust particles show up as spots on the lung, which is called simple coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. The complicated form of the disease where the lungs have severe scarring is known as progressive massive fibrosis.
Not every coal miner will develop black lung, and symptoms may not appear for years or decades, sometimes until after a miner retires. Common symptoms include coughing, sometimes with black sputum, tightness in the chest, and shortness of breath. Black lung disease can be diagnosed through a lung function test combined with chest X-rays or CT scans of the lungs. There is no cure for black lung disease.
How can Miners Stay Safe at Work?
Every employer has the responsibility to maintain a workplace that is free of safety hazards. In the case of mining, this can be a complex and difficult task. The United States Department of Labor (DOT) has a special division devoted to mine safety. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has a Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which sets safety standards for the mining industry, and it is updated annually. The MSHA provides a wide range of services and materials designed to help mine operators comply with the CFR by developing or revising training, safety, and health programs that addresses specific conditions and hazards. The MSHA also has a collection of ToolBox Talks that can be used by small mine operators to hold safety and health discussions with their employees.
Some workplace accidents are preventable, even in the mining industry. Some safety issues that must be addressed for miners include:
- Proper ventilation in underground mines.
- Regular inspection and maintenance of equipment.
- Training on lockout/tagout protocols.
- Housekeeping practices that keep areas around mine equipment, driveways, safety devices, and control stations free of debris and obstacles.
- Proper usage and storage of explosives.
- Correct usage and fit for personal protective equipment (PPE), such as respirators, fall protection, hard hats, safety glasses, and hearing protection.
- Safety belt usage in motor vehicles.
- Proper use of signage to indicate areas of dangerous hazards, as well as traffic directions. Signage must be kept current or it becomes a hazard in itself.
- Systems for monitoring and testing hearing.
- Training for miners on the signs of heat stress illnesses.
Can I File a Workers’ Compensation Claim for a Mining-Related Injury or Illness?
Most work-related mining injuries are covered by Workers’ Compensation benefits. Employers are required to carry insurance to cover injuries that happen on the job. Illnesses or diseases arising out of the course of employment are also compensable, although it must be proven that the infliction was directly caused by the work environment. Workers’ Compensation benefits cover medical expenses and treatment, rehabilitation, and wage loss at a rate of around two-thirds of an employee’s regular salary. Death benefits are available for surviving dependents.
When filing a Workers’ Compensation claim, there is a deadline of 120 days to report an injury. It is always best to report a work injury immediately to a supervisor or manager. It is crucial to seek medical care to ensure a record exists of the injury and the fact that it happened on the job. Claims for occupational illness are more complicated. A person suffering from a work-related illness should consult with an experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer who can build a strong case.
Bucks County Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Advocate for Injured Miners
On National Miners Day, it is important to spread awareness about hazards in the mining industry and work safety. Our Bucks County Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. advocate for injured workers, including miners. For a free consultation about your work injury or illness, contact us online or call us at 888-999-1962 today. Located in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, we proudly serve clients throughout Pennsylvania.