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Utah Mine Collapse Lawsuits Settle: Are Mines Getting Safer?

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By David Goguen on May 13, 2009 11:01 AM

All civil lawsuits filed in connection with a 2007 mine collapse in Crandall Canyon, Utah have been settled in an umbrella agreement among the mine's operator, injured survivors, and the families of eight miners and one inspector who were killed.

News of the settlement over the Utah mine collapse comes a few months after federal safety officials released data showing a mixed message of sorts related to recent mine safety trends: record-low fatalities when it comes to miner accidents, coupled with record-high numbers of health and safety violations handed out to mine operators.

The August 2007 Crandall Canyon Mine Collapse. In a summary of the initial accident and susbsequent failed rescue attempt in August 2007, the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration states that "six miners were killed in a catastrophic coal outburst when roof-supporting pillars failed and violently ejected coal over a half-mile area. Ten days later, two mine employees and an MSHA inspector perished in a coal outburst during rescue efforts."

The collapse of the mine's roof support system was so powerful that it led seismologists to assume there had been an earthquake in the area, according to the New York Times, which reports that terms of this week's settlement were not disclosed, and resolution of the lawsuits does not include any admission of liability by the mine's operator.

Mine Safety Trends. Recent trends in mine safety show a decrease in miner deaths, but a corresponding spike in mine safety problems. According to figures from the MSHA, mine deaths in 2008 reached an all time low, recording a 31 percent drop from mine fatalities in 2007. But in 2008, the MSHA assessed 198,700 civil penalties for mine health and safety violations, up from 130,100 violations in 2007. And "The number and dollar amounts of civil penalties in 2008 are the most ever assessed in a single year," MHSA reports.