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Mine safety

From Stephanie Mencimer's blog, in the process of complaining that coal miners aren't able to bring lawsuits against mines in most instances:

[Coal industry reporter Ken Ward Jr.] dropped this staggering statistic: Over the past few years, the experts in the Mine Safety and Health Administration, in their rational and predictable way, fined coal companies a whopping $250 for every miner they killed by ignoring safety regulations already on the books.

Wow—$250/death is a staggering statistic. Too bad for Mencimer's argument that it is not remotely true.

While granting that it's possible that MSHA fines may be too low for optimal deterrence, in 2004, MSHA issued about $4 million in fines. For the $250 figure to be true, 16,000 miners must have died in 2004 from violations of existing safety regulations, which would have been the most unreported story in 21st century journalism. (The actual number of total mining deaths in 2004 was 24—and surely not every single one of those deaths was because of a safety violation.)

Are coal miners suffering because of the unavailability of civil liability? Coal mining is certainly a dangerous job, but the facts do not indicate that mining companies have entirely disregarded worker safety. Mining deaths are down dramatically in just the last quarter century. In the five years of Bush II administration where statistics are available, there were 132 mining deaths. In 1981, by itself, there were 142 mining deaths. Yes, part of that is because there is less coal mining, but even in terms of incident rates, the number has dropped from 0.08 to 0.02. (Indeed, the Bush II administration average is lower than the best annual result achieved in the Clinton administration.)

The facts contradict Mencimer: gigantic civil liability is not a prerequisite for gigantic improvements in worker safety. Mencimer titles her posts "Why 'experts' aren't enough," and apparently means to attack the idea of regulatory preemption, but she doesn't explain why jackpot damages awards are a desireable end in and of themselves, rather than a means to the results actually achieved by an agency that has had preemptive powers.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.