Coal mining is considered one of America’s top ten most dangerous jobs. There are more than 50 countries that produce coal, China leading the list. Suffocation, gas poisoning, roof collapses, and gas explosions are just a few of the dangers that coal miners face, in addition to health risks, such as “black lung” disease. Because China employs thousands more coal miners, their fatality rate is much greater than those in the U.S.
Coal produces more than one-half of the electricity for our nation. In eastern states such as Kentucky, families of miners have been mining coal for generations. Coal is the means of creating electricity, methanol, coke for steel manufacture, and fuel in power generators, referred to as steaming or thermal coal. To make cement, extracts of iron from iron ore are used.
Through technological advancements, coal mining today is more productive than ever. Computers furnish most of the safety monitoring systems, assisting the industry in keeping their workers safer. PPE, such as hardhat lights, are standard equipment for miners.
The Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration has many suggestions to ensure the safety of mines, such as gas monitoring, gas drainage, electrical equipment, better ventilation, reducing the risks of rock falls, and measuring unhealthy air quality. One cause of fatal injuries is collapsing rock pillars, which support rock between the mine and surface. When the coal is extracted from these pillars once the coal has been mined, the pillars sometimes fall, trapping miners inside.
Cold weather is another hazard, as methane builds along with the unnaturally low barometric pressure. The MSHA notes that every mine must have its individual ventilation plan to keep methane at safe levels. Proper air pressure differential is essential in order to carry the level of gas away from working areas. There should be regularly scheduled hazard inspections of air shafts, air movements and escape routes.
As coal dust can cause explosions, constant maintenance must be done on equipment that could be a source of sparks. No smoking or smoking materials are allowed, as common sense would dictate.
When mining accidents are announced on the news, we realize how hard and risky their daily jobs are. Their families carry on with their lives, but worry that an accident could happen any time. When something goes wrong, we observe the dedication on the faces of the rescue workers to get to their comrades and bring them out safely. Coal miners work in very restricted areas; one man compared it to working underneath your kitchen table for several hours. I think I prefer sitting behind my desk! But I do appreciate the history behind this industry, and those persons who help keep America moving forward.