Mining is commonplace in our state, with 28 counties producing coal. According to the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training, about 30,000 people are employed directly in coal mines. More coal is extracted from underground mines in West Virginia than any other state in the U.S.
Coal miners have high risk occupations compared to workers in other jobs. Coal mining injuries and illnesses occur more often and disable employees longer than in other professions. The threats to life and limb are greatest among workers in bituminous coal underground mines.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the 2006 fatality rate in the coal mining industry was 49.5 deaths for every 100,000 workers. The rate in other private industry jobs was twelve times lower at 4.2 deaths per 100,000 employees.
Forty-seven coal mine workers died in 2006, an 84 percent increase over the previous year. Seventy percent of the fatalities took place in bituminous underground mines, with injuries from fires and explosions as the leading reasons for deaths.
Overall nonfatal illness and injury rates among coal miners were 11 percent higher in 2006 than in other private industry jobs. The coal mining rate was 5.1 illnesses or injuries per 100 employees. When isolated, the rate among workers in bituminous coal underground mines was 63 percent above the average private industry rate: 7.5 illnesses or injuries per 100 full-time employees.
Injured coal miners also spent more days off the job on average than other private industry workers in 2005. While most private industry workers were sidelined for a full week, coal miners were away from work for 30 days. Fractures accounted for 16 percent of all coal mining injuries, twice the private sector average.
Companies and other parties responsible can be held accountable for compensation to cover losses associated with coal mining injuries. Attorneys assist with benefits and liability claims.