vigil light for dead miner

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) says the 24 mining fatalities in the U.S. in 2019 were the fewest annual fatalities ever recorded. Last year is only the fifth year with fewer than 30 mining fatalities in the MSHA’s 43-year history.

One of the 2019 mining fatalities was in South Carolina, according to an MSHA news release. Even one preventable mining death is too many. There were also four deaths each in Kentucky and West Virginia and two each in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas. Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Vermont each reported one fatality.

“The low number of mining deaths last year demonstrates that mine operators have become more proactive in eliminating safety hazards,” Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health David G. Zatezalo said in the news release. “A disproportionate number of mining deaths involved contractors, and we saw an uptick in electrocution accidents, with three deaths and another two close calls.”

Zatezalo said that the MSHA is visiting thousands of mines to educate miners, operators and contractors on safety procedures that could prevent accidents.

The decline in mining deaths in 2019 follows a two-year increase in 2017 and 2018, when about half of all deaths resulted from vehicle-on-vehicle collisions, failure to use a functioning seat belt and conveyor belt accidents.

The MSHA responded with a multifaceted education campaign and initiated changes to safety rules. In 2019, the percentage of deaths caused by powered haulage accidents dropped to approximately 25% of all mining deaths, the news release says.

The MSHA is still reviewing two cases of possible chargeable fatalities which, if added, would make the total in 2019 the second-lowest number of fatalities ever recorded, according to Mining-Technology.com.

Approximately 250,000 miners work in around 12,000 metal/nonmetal mines in the U.S., while approximately 83,000 work in around 1,000 coal mines, MSHA says.

Mining in South Carolina

South Carolina has nearly 500 active mines, according to the Mining Association of South Carolina.

The S.C. Mining Act defines mining as the removal of ores from the ground for sale (i.e., granite quarries) or for use in a business (i.e., brick manufacturing). There are several types of surface mining done in South Carolina, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC): open pit (i.e., granite, vermiculite), strip mines (i.e., sand, clay, gravel) and sand dredging from river bottoms.

South Carolina employs about 4,600 people in mining and logging operations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The estimated raw mineral production value at the lip of the mine in South Carolina is in excess of $483 million annually, according to the S.C. Mining Association. Mining companies contribute more than $138 million in the state annually through payroll and taxes alone.

South Carolina is ranked 25th in the United States in total mineral value and is 13th among the 26 Eastern states, the association says. The state is ranked second nationally in the production and sales of kaolin and first in cement. South Carolina is the only gold producer east of the Mississippi.

Recent South Carolina Mining Death at Cement Plant

While the number of mining deaths has declined last year, mining remains dangerous work that can cause injuries and occupational disease to miners.

Lennox W. Hinckson, 65, a contract worker, fell from a “preheater” tower at the Holcim Cement Plant in Holly Hill, S.C., on Dec. 3, according to WIS TV in Columbia. Hinckson was pronounced dead at the scene from injuries suffered in the fall, which was ruled accidental.

Holcim, which is classified as a mining operation according to WIS TV, reported seven non-fatal injuries in 2019 and has been cited with 273 safety violations since 2016. Forty-one of those violations were issued in 2019. The total penalties paid for those violations was $645,394, according to records.

Violations were related to moving machine parts not being properly covered and guarded, the safety and size of electrical conductors and the plant not being clean and orderly.

In another death at the Holcim Cement Plant in 2002, the victim was hit and pinned by an elevator car.

Legal Assistance for Injured S.C. Mining Workers

Individuals employed in the mining industry in South Carolina are due workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured in an accident while on the job. In cases of fatal accidents, S.C. workers’ comp pays a death benefit to surviving family members. Contract workers would typically have workers’ comp coverage through an agency that contracted with the mine to provide temporary personnel. Let our attorneys at Joye Law Firm review the details of the mining accident and discuss your legal options for seeking compensation.

The Joye Law firm helps injured South Carolina workers and their families recover compensation they are due after occupational accidents and illnesses. Workers’ compensation laws are complex, and many employers can avoid paying full settlements in expensive claims if the injured employee does not have an experienced lawyer on their side.

Our South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers have fought for injured workers for more than 50 years. We can fight for you, too. If you were injured at work, or if a family member was killed, contact us today for a free review of your case and the benefits you deserve to have.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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