Alaska lost 2 miners in 2011

U.S. mining fatalities 2nd lowest in more than 100 years

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration recently released data on mine fatalities. Nationwide, 37 miners died in work-related accidents in 2011, compared to more than 70 the year prior.

While 2011 wasn’t the most deadly year on record for Alaska’s mining industry, the death of two miners makes it close. Three miners were killed in one accident in 2007.

Mill operator Michael J. Murray, 39, was killed in a fall at Fairbanks Gold Mining’s Fort Knox Mine in June. Murray fell 60 feet through two open hatches in the rock crusher building. Mine Safety officials found the accident occurred “because management failed to ensure that it had policies and procedures in place so persons could safely remove any dust that accumulated around an uncovered opening on the dump floor where there was a danger of falling,” according to a MSHA report.

Coeur d’Alene Mines-owned Kensington Mine lost a miner in September.

30-year-old Juneau resident Joe Tagaban was killed in an accident involving debris from a blast. Tagaban had drilled a hole into a pre-existing void. A blast traveled through the borehole “blowing small rock and debris onto the victim,” according to MSHA’s initial report.

Alaska has lost seven miners since 2001. A low number compared to the deadliest states in which to be a miner — Alabama with 39 miners killed, Kentucky with 94 and West Virginia with 130.

“Mining deaths are preventable,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of Labor for mine safety and health. “The year that the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 passed, 273 miners died and, since that time, fatality numbers have steadily declined. It takes the entire mining community to continue to reach new milestones in health and safety. Miners need the reassurance that they will return home safe and healthy after each shift.”

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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