U.S. mining deaths at second-lowest level ever in 2012

Mining deaths in the United States reached their second-lowest total ever in 2012, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration announced Thursday.

Also, the industry's fatality rate, calculated based on the number of deaths per 200,000 hours worked, was at an all-time low for the second year in a row, the agency said.

A total of 36 miners died on the job in 2012 — 19 in the coal industry and 17 at other types of mines, MSHA said in a news release. The only year with fewer deaths was 2009, with 35.

Kentucky accounted for five of the mining-related deaths. West Virginia had the most deaths, with seven.

The agency noted that supervisors accounted for nine of the mining deaths, or 25 percent of the total. That is much higher than in prior years, which is a cause for concern, MSHA said.

The relatively low number of fatalities was good news, but more needs to be done, said MSHA chief Joseph A. Main.

"While mining deaths and injuries — due to the efforts of all in the mining industry — have reached historic lows, more actions are needed to prevent mining injuries, illnesses and deaths," Main said in a statement.

For instance, several miners killed in 2012 had a year or less of experience in the job they were doing. That indicates a need for miners to receive effective training before performing a new task, Main said.

He also noted that accidents in which underground coal miners are hit, pinned or crushed by machinery continue to cause a significant number of deaths and injuries. From 1984 through 2012, 73 miners were killed in such accidents, MSHA said.

More than 30 of those involved continuous mining machines, and could have been prevented if the machines had a system designed to stop the machinery from coming into contact with miners, called proximity detection, MSHA said.