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Kentucky had only one coal-mining death in 2018. It was a record low.

Hubert Grubbs Jr.
Hubert Grubbs Jr. Facebook page

Kentucky had one death in 2018 from an accident at a coal mine, a record low for the state, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Nationwide, there were 27 fatalities at all types of mines, with 12 of those at coal mines and 15 at facilities such as rock quarries, the agency announced Tuesday.

That was the second-lowest number of mining deaths ever, according to MSHA.

The number of coal-mining deaths in the nation the last decade has ranged from 48 in 2010, when a blast at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed 29 miners, to a low of eight in 2016, according to MSHA’s website.

Kentucky had recorded two mine deaths in several recent years, but had never finished a year with a single fatality.

Hubert Grubbs Jr., 29, died on March 28 when he got caught in a moving conveyor belt at the underground D-11 Panther mine near Cumberland, in Harlan County, which was operated by Blackjewel LLC, according to federal records.

The fatal accident happened because of safety lapses, federal investigators said.

Grubbs’ death involved what MSHA calls “powered haulage,” which includes mobile equipment and conveyor belts that move coal or other materials.

Those were the most common types of accidents in 2018, accounting for nearly half of all mining deaths, the agency said.

MSHA responded with a campaign to educate miners and mine operators on equipment hazards and sought information on technology changes or practices aimed at reducing hazards from such equipment, the agency said.

The annual fatality total does not count deaths from black lung, which is caused by inhaling dust in coal mines. The disease can take years to cause death.

The prevalence of the disease has spiked since 2000, especially in Kentucky.

Amid the largest surge of cases in decades, the tax coal companies pay to help miners with black lung disease is slated to be cut in half. "If it's cut, it'd be catastrophic," said former coal miner Kenny Fleming.

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