FRIDAY, May 14, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- New research shows that a federal policy that requires miners to undergo safety education has reduced the incidence of permanently disabling injuries.
However, implementation of the regulation a decade ago did not reduce less severe injuries at stone, sand and gravel operations, according to a study in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
The report comes soon after the disaster which killed 29 workers at a coal mine in West Virginia on April 5, the worst such disaster in the United States in 40 years.
Since that time, federal mining regulators have been calling for safety enhancements in the industry.
According to the Associated Press, the National Mining Association (which does not include the stone, sand and gravel operations observed in this study) said it has spent more than $1 billion on safety improvements since 2006, but indicated it is willing to do more.
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has also said it would make safety upgrades.
Although the spotlight has traditionally focused on coal-mining accidents, other types of mining can be just as perilous, if not more so, the authors of this latest study stated.
For instance, the injury rate for miners at surface stone quarries in 2006 was five per 100 full-time workers, more than double the rate for surface bituminous coal miners.
Death rates in the mining industry in general are also exceptionally high -- about 25.6 per 100,000 workers compared to 17.6 per 100,000 in the transportation and warehousing industry and 11 in the construction industry.
The safety training regulation examined in this paper was established by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Labor, in 1999 and put into effect in 2000.
"MSHA's Part 46 training ensures that miners are properly trained to recognize, avoid and report hazards to create a safe workplace," said Amy Louviere, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. "Miners are trained in the health and safety aspects of assigned tasks, including the safe work procedures of those tasks. Trained miners can work safely, which ultimately reduces injuries and fatalities."
These authors set out to see exactly what effect the training had had.
Data from both before and after implementation of the regulation found that overall injury rate at almost 8,000 mines did go down.
For crushed stone operations, the rate declined by 52.6 percent, at sand and gravel operations by 46.2 percent and at other surface mineral mines, by 38 percent.
But the decline was reflected only in permanently disabling injuries, such as losing an eye or a limb, not less severe injuries, such as those resulting only in lost work time or restricted duty.
The researchers, from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., could not say why there were declines only in this one type of injury.
But the findings do point up the importance of education in ensuring safety in any field.
"These authors found that when they intervened with education, they had fewer life-threatening debilitating injuries," said Dr. David Birnbach, a professor of anesthesiology and public health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "It's very similar in that if you make a mistake as a physician you're going to hurt somebody. If you make a mistake in mining you're going to hurt yourself and other people working around you. We find that by training young physicians, we can reduce the number of errors they make in several ways."
Learn more about mining safety at the Mine Safety and Health Administration.