The Lodge of Shingebiss

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Coal Mines Safer Under Bush

The NY Times moved instantly to blame the Sago mine disaster on President Bush, crying about the "Bush administration's cramming of important posts in the Department of the Interior with biased operatives from the coal, oil and gas industry..." See http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/05/opinion/05thu1.html?emc=eta1

Then a couple days later the Times discovered, no doubt to their dismay, and no doubt after being prompted by some blogger, that mining fatalaties have actually declined during the Bush presidency. See http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/08/weekinreview/08basic.html

This is true, as these numbers show very clearly
http://www.msha.gov/stats/charts/coalbystate.asp

There is of course a problem with these numbers. It would never occur to the geniuses at the NY Times that the fatality rate per FTE or per hour worked is a much more revealing number than total fatalities, since the number of people involved in coal mining has changed very significantly over time. I mean, ask me if I am surprised that coal mining fatalaties are lower today than in 1910. Yet even when these numbers are consulted, the result does not change. See "Number and Rate of Coal Operator Mining Fatalities by Underground and Surface Work Locations by Year, 1995-2004"

For this chart in original context see http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/mining/statistics/pdfs/fusc.pdf . Note that the 2001 figures can be only partly attributed to Bush, since his administration began in that year, and that the 2005 figures, not shown on the chart, were lower than any prior year in history, as shown by http://www.msha.gov/stats/charts/coalbystate.asp

Not than the government can take much credit for any of this. Better mining technology and the desire of mine operators to avoid costly accidents has more to do with the improvements than anything the government is doing.

Still, in researching this I was frankly impressed by the highly intelligent safety advice offered by the MSHA. For an example see
http://www.msha.gov/webcasts/Coal2005/mshawebcast05032005.pdf

And their operational planning seems pretty sound, too. See
http://www.msha.gov/MSHAINFO/PerfPlan/Plan2003.pdf

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