For the first time in the state's long history of mineral extraction, Pennsylvania's mines were free of fatalities last year—an achievement that Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger praised today, saying mines can be safe when there is an across-the-board commitment to safety.
Pennsylvania's most recent mine fatalities occurred in the summer of 2009. One person died in a Pennsylvania coal mine in June 2009 while another fatality was reported in July 2009 at an industrial minerals mine.
"The fact that we have gone 18 months without a fatality in Pennsylvania's coal and industrial mineral mines is a testament to the commitment of everyone involved. From miners and supervisors to mine owners, union leaders and the mine safety staff here at DEP, everyone is working to ensure Pennsylvania's mines are the safest in the world," said Secretary Hanger.
The secretary credited amendments made in 2008 to Pennsylvania's Bituminous Coal Mine Safety Act for fostering this "culture of safety" in coal mining industry. The amendments, which were passed unanimously by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Rendell in the summer of 2008, six years after the Quecreek Mine Accident, represented the first major re-write in half a century to the Mine Safety Act.
The new law modernized Pennsylvania's outdated mine safety requirements, ensuring DEP could put current technology to work in the state's mines and could implement new tools and technology safely and quickly as innovations are made. It also made the mine owners and operators primarily responsible for safety compliance at mines, and allowed DEP to assess fines and penalties for noncompliance. Under the old law, only individuals such as supervisors and foremen could be held responsible for an accident.
The revised law also removed antiquated language that had very little to do with modern mining, and corrected the inflexible regulatory structure that was criticized repeatedly by agencies and boards involved in investigating the 2002 Quecreek Mine accident.
To ensure changes to improve safety could be made quickly, the new Mine Safety Act established a Coal Mine Safety Board. The seven-member board met for the first time in January 2009.
Mining has taken place in Pennsylvania since the late-1700s. Pennsylvania is America's fourth-largest coal producing state—after Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky—with approximately 40 underground bituminous mines.
NewsClip: PA To Mark 1st Year Without Job-Related Deaths