CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Most of the fatalities in the nation's coal mines in the last decade resulted from mine operators' failure to comply with safety rules, an analysis by the Sunday Gazette-Mail shows.
The newspaper examined federal records of the deaths of 320 coal miners in 297 accidents nationwide between 1996 and 2005. Nearly nine out of 10 fatalities could have been avoided if mine operators had complied with safety rules, the newspaper reported Sunday.
Mine operators failed to perform, or incorrectly performed, required safety checks in nearly one-fourth of the mining deaths during the period. Twenty-one percent of the fatalities resulted from violations of roof control, mine ventilation or other required safety plans.
Mining equipment that was not maintained in safe working condition was involved in more than 25 percent of the fatal accidents. Miners received inadequate training or no training in more than 20 percent of the accidents, the newspaper reported.
"We haven't invented new ways to kill people," said Davitt McAteer, who was director of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration. "People are dying because we haven't kept up with particular statutes and rules."
Richard Stickler, the new MSHA chief, said earlier this year during his confirmation hearing that most mining deaths result from violations.
"This is really an outlaw industry," said Tony Oppegard, a mine safety expert and former regulator from Kentucky.
During the same period, the median penalty paid by coal companies for a miner's death was $250, the Sunday Gazette-Mail reported.
Mine safety problems entered the national spotlight this year after an explosion at the Sago Mine killed 12 miners and a blast at an eastern Kentucky mine killed five miners. But 286 of the 320 deaths that occurred during the last decade were single fatalities involving equipment or collapsed mine roofs, the newspaper reported.
The industry's death toll this year is 43, the highest since 1995 when 47 miners were killed. Twenty-two of those deaths occurred in West Virginia.