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Deaths in abandoned mines prompt MSHA safety alert

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Photo: Mine Safety and Health Administration

Arlington, VA – In the wake of two deaths at an abandoned mine in Texas, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued a safety alert asking mine operators to evaluate hazards at active mines, make efforts to prevent trespassing and help educate the public on the dangers of exploring mines.

About 30 people die each year at mines, and more than 60 percent of those fatalities are due to drowning, according to a letter sent to mine operators by Neil Merrifield, administrator for metal and nonmetal mine safety and health at MSHA.

Mine hazards may not be obvious to trespassers, states the alert, which was produced in association with the Ohio Aggregates and Industrial Minerals Association. Pits and water-filled quarries can conceal old machinery and rock ledges; water can be deeper and colder than people believe; and slippery, steep quarry walls can make exiting the water difficult. In addition, loose material can collapse, and vertical shafts can be deep, unprotected and not readily visible.

The alert briefly describes fatal incidents involving people at mine sites. In April, two bodies were found at clay pits in Harrison County, TX. In June 2015, a man drowned after jumping from a 50-foot wall into an abandoned pit filled with water in Pennsylvania. Two months later, at the same site, another person drowned after diving into the pit.

MSHA encourages mine operators to inspect their mines for hazards; build or fix fences, gates and berms; post additional signage; and issue public service announcements and discuss mine hazards through local media outlets.

MSHA’s Stay Out – Stay Alive campaign offers additional information about hazards at abandoned mines.

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