NIOSHTIC-2 Publications Search

Employment, production and fatality trends in the U.S. coal mining industry.

Bockosh GR; Fotta B; McKewan W
Coal Age 2002 Oct; 107(10):18-20
As independent contractors become an increasingly greater proportion of the workforce, they also contribute an increasing proportion of mining fatalities, particularly at surface mining operations. During 1980-84, contractors accounted for 5.1% of all coal mining fatalities, increasing to 16.6% in the first half of the 1990s and falling slightly to 15.6% at the end of that decade. In underground mines the absolute number of contractor fatalities has decreased but they make up a larger percentage of the total, rising from 2.3 % in 1980-1984 to 6.5% in 1995-1999. In surface mining, both the absolute number and percentage of the total has seen a significant increase, more than tripling from 9.5% in 1980-1984, to 39% in 1990-1994, and to 30% in 1995-1999. Prep plants saw a decrease in the absolute number of contractor fatalities but, here too, the percentage of the total fatalities has grown, increasing from 30.6% in 1980-1984 to 43.8% in 1995-1999. Clearly, contractors are a growing part of the mining workforce and a growing proportion of those that are fatally injured. The analysis above shows that a relatively slow growth in production of coal can be expected in the future. Most of that growth is expected to be in the Western surface mines because of environmental issues (the Clean Air Act) and the low cost. Upon examination of coal production over the last 10 years, it would appear that only surface bituminous will be having any real production increases. The increase in surface bituminous mining will likely remain steady at about 18 million tpy for the next five years. To put this increase into perspective, a hypothetical 10 million-tpy increase at a large Western surface mine would require five 240-ton haul trucks and a 56-cubic-yard (cu yd) shovel for overburden removal and four 240-ton trucks and a 40-cu-yd shovel for coal production. CONSOL Energy reported that their best longwall produces almost 7,200 tons per shift, which would result in approximately 5.3 million tpy, assuming two shifts per day of production. In addition, the EIA reported in 1999 that U. S. mines East of the Mississippi River were at 80% utilization and those West were at 83.5%. The total U. S. mining industry has the current capacity to mine about 1.34 billion tons. This level of consumption is not expected by the EIA in the foreseeable future. Therefore, no massive increase in the number of mines is expected in the near future. A recent workforce analysis shows that, because of the shrinking workforce in coal mining and little hiring during the last two decades, the average age of the workforce is likely to exceed 45 years. Some mines have an average workforce age of 50 years. Research indicates that while injury rates generally decline with increasing age, injury severity and recovery time increases. Furthermore, the occupational fatality rate increases with age. Thus, with the anticipated shrinkage of the workforce and subsequent increasing age, severity and fatality rates can be expected to increase if this issue is not addressed. Furthermore, the current workforce will eventually have to be replaced with younger less-experienced workers. This may also result in higher accident rates. Another study predicted that the new equipment and technologies for coal production will not involve any strikingly new technologies and that there will be short-term and incremental improvements, not breakthrough innovations. However, the new haul trucks and shovels will undoubtedly be larger and more complex, requiring different strategies for operation and training. The new longwalls will be larger and will also require different equipment and planning. The number of contractor employees is significant and their numbers are expected to continue to grow as a percentage of the mining workforce. The recent past has also seen an increase in the percentage of the total of fatal mining injuries occurring in the contractor ranks. Coal production will grow slowly, the workforce, while experiencing a high turnover due to retirements, will continue to shrink, and a larger portion will be contractors, and technology will evolve slowly.
Miners; Mining-industry; Coal-mining; Accident-statistics; Accident-rates; Work-analysis; Work-environment; Workplace-monitoring
Publication Date
Document Type
Journal Article
Fiscal Year
Issue of Publication
NIOSH Division
Source Name
Coal Age
Page last reviewed: September 2, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division