In response to a recommendation from the Department of Labor’s Inspector General, MSHA released data on 40 additional deaths which occurred (mostly) in 2007 at U.S. mining operations but were deemed not “chargeable” to the mining industry. The information, which includes 5 deaths in late 2006 and 35 in 2007, involved miners, contract workers, a mine owner, children of mine operators, and trespassers onto mine property. Of the 40 deaths, 30 were classified as “natural causes,” based on autopsy reports with notations such as “acute cardiac dysrhthmia,” “acute myocardial infarction,” “atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease,” “pulmonary thromboembolism,” “ischemic heart disease.” The remaining 10 deaths included two suicides and eight fatal injuries involving individuals not authorized to be on the mine property such as former employees and apparent burglers.
The information released by MSHA is in response to the November 2007 OIG report entitled: “MSHA’s Process for Determining the Chargeability of Reported Fatalities Would Benefit from Additional Controls.” Among its recommendations was:
“to publish summary information on all reported fatalities, both chargeable and non-chargeable.”
I commend MSHA for responding to the OIG’s recommendation and making this information available on its website. It serves a couple of valuable purposes. First, it lets the public know that when deaths on mine property occur, there is a mechanism in place by MSHA to gather at least preliminary data about the event. Now, rather than filing a FOIA request to find out about these “non-chargeable” deaths, the data is available. I hope MSHA’s plan, now that the list is posted, to simply keep it up to-date.
Second, the more we know about deaths on-the-job —whatever their nature— the better the chances of coming up with means to prevent them in the future. As I’ve written in previous posts (here, here) about failing to make known certain kinds of fatal injuries (or, for that matter, non-fatal injuries or illnesses) is like wearing blinders. How will we know if a problem exists (or doesn’t) if the information is reserved only for the eyes of the agency?
So what do we learn from the records of these 40 deaths?
It reveals the awful and deadly toll of cardiovascular disease—the leading cause of death in our country. More than 700,000 people in the U.S. die each year from heart-disease-related causes, that’s nearly 30 percent of all deaths.
In 2007, 64 coal, metal and non-metal miners died on-the-job in incidents which were deemed work-related. This new information released by MSHA tells us that another 24 miners died on-the-job in 2007 from acute events probably related to cardiovascular disease. Some of the men were as young as 29, 37, and 44 years of age. (Unfortunately, nearly half the records released by MSHA on “natural cause” deaths are missing information about the workers’ ages.)
The data makes me wonder whether the incidence of cardiovascular events at mining workplaces compares to other industrial settings and to the general population?
It makes me wonder how we might use reports to OSHA under 1904.39(b)(5):
“Do I have to report a fatality caused by a heart attack at work? Yes, your local OSHA Area Office director will decide whether to investigate the incident, depending on the circumstances of the heart attack.”
to answer that question.
It makes me wonder how the loyal Pump Handle readers from the west coast (you know who you are) might advice me on this question.
Celeste Monforton, MPH is a research associate at George Washington University School of Public Health. She worked at U.S. Dept of Labor on occupational health and safety issues for 11 years, including 6 years at MSHA.