FRANKFORT — For the first time, federal inspectors have completed mandatory safety reviews of all the nation's mines within a single year, the head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said Wednesday.
Mine safety chief Richard E. Stickler said the federal agency added more than 360 inspectors and paid $10 million in overtime to get the inspections completed.
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"I have to believe the increased inspections are making mines safer," Stickler said. "You never know the accidents that you prevent. But certainly when you find hazardous conditions, and you require those conditions to be mitigated, you have to believe you have saved lives."
This year, 49 miners have been killed on the job, down from 67 last year and 73 the year before. Of this year's deaths, 27 were in coal mines and 22 in mines that produce materials such as salt, sand, copper and gold.
Stickler said completing the inspections was a milestone — the first time in the agency's 31-year history that every mandated regular review was done within a year.
Critics weren't impressed.
"It's tough to get too excited about a government agency doing what it is statutorily required to do, though with this agency under this administration we've been forced to take small improvements whenever we can get them," said Phil Smith, spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America.