According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2002 the U.S. coal mine workforce had a higher median age (45.2 years) than the workforces of any other sector of mining. The difference was even greater between coal mine workers and all employed persons in the United States, where the median age was 40.1 years. In 2002, 48,000 miners, or 57% of the workforce, were over 44 years old. When looking at 10-year age groups, one would expect the percentage of workers in each group to be equal if workers were entering and leaving the industry in a consistent way. Instead, the 45-54 age group, at 44% of the total, makes up a substantially larger percentage of the workforce than either the 35-44 age group (23.8%) or the 25-34 age group (14.3%). We see similar trends when we look at injuries reported to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Bituminous coal mine operators reported 5,137 injuries in 2002. The median age for injured underground coal miners was 43 years. It was 44 years for surface miners and 47 years for prep plant workers. When divided into 10-year age categories, the largest group to experience injuries was the 45-54 year olds. Many of the miners in the older age categories are part of the generational group known as the Baby Boomers. A lot has been written in the academic and popular press about how Baby Boomers compare with groups who are older and younger. Looking at these groups is another way to explore the mining injury data. Although there are different ways that people categorize the generational groups, they are all fairly similar. One strategy identifies the groups as (1) Veterans (age 60 and older), (2) Baby Boomers (42-59 years old), (3) Generation Xers (22-41 years old), and (4) Nexters (younger than 22 years old). There is little doubt that as Baby Boomers move toward retirement, there will be changes in the U.S. workforce. It is likely that the mining industry will see changes, too. Now is the time to consider whether or not your mine is undergoing or heading for change and how that change might impact safety and health.
NIOSH Pittsburgh Research Laboratory, P.O. Box 18070, Pittsburgh, PA 15236