Gephardt Daily

Coal mining deaths rise in 2017 after record low the year before

Justin Cooper, 11, wears his father's mining hard hat during a candle light vigil for the 25 coal miners who were killed in 2010. Coal miner deaths have gradually decreased since 2010, but 2017 saw a sharp spike from the year before. Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg/UPI

Jan. 3 (UPI) — There was a spike in coal miner deaths in 2017 after a record low the year before, according to Mine Safety and Health Administration data.

total of 15 coal miners lost their lives on the job last year, compared to eight the year before, which was the lowest death rate since records on coal mining deaths have been kept, according to MSHA.

Coal mine deaths had been on a downward trend since 2014, when 16 fatalities were reported. Prior years have been far deadlier, including 48 deaths in 2010, the year 25 coal miners died in a West Virginia mine blast.

Last year saw a rise in coal production in 2017 by about 15 percent during the midpoint of the year compared to 2016, according to Bloomberg.

There was also a 3.7 percent increase to the labor force.

“They may be experienced miners, but they’re coming into different job settings from when they worked previously,” said Bruce Watzman, the National Mining Association’s senior vice president for regulatory affairs. “No two mines are exactly alike. Even if it’s the same company, there are differences in the geology and the environment.”

West Virginia saw the most fatalities last year with eight, including the last death of the year on Dec. 29 when 34-year-old Thurman A. Watts was killed.

Other states that saw coal mine fatalities include Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Alabama, Montana and Kentucky.