The Potential Hazards Of Working In A Coal Mine

March 28, 2011
No one ever said that coal mining was easy. In fact, it’s outright dangerous. Every day, miners across the country and around the world put themselves on the line. Even with the greatest of safety precautions, accidents happen. Whether it’s because of a mechanical or human error, each miner has either experienced or seen his or her share of injuries. When Spike's new original series Coal airs Sundays at 8PM/7c, the Cobalt Coal crew will share what they've seen and experienced. Until then, here's some insight on what a miner can expect in this highly admirable but difficult life.

Photo: Stone/Getty Images

Black Lung Disease - The most common term for Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis (CWP), black lung disease is caused by long exposure to coal dust. When inhaled, coal dust builds up in the lungs and is unable to be removed by the body, leading to inflammation, fibrosis, and sometimes necrosis, the premature death of cells and living tissue. Since the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 became law, black lung disease has gone down by 90%, but the downward trend of this disease in coal miners has stopped. Rates are now on the rise, with incidents of black lung disease having doubled in the last 10 years. Reports suggest that close to nine percent of miners with 25 years or more experience tested positive for black lung in 2005-2006, compared with only 4 percent in the late 1990s.

Roof Collapse - Certainly one of the more common causes of injury within coal mines, it’s easy to understand why these collapses happen when you realize that you are creating tunnels underground, possibly miles under heavy earth. Roof bolters are responsible for suring up ceilings alongside the thick beams that arch the tunnels themselves, but these devices are never foolproof. Whether it’s human error or more simply the settling of the earth, miners always need to be wary of collapse. Even the practice of "retreat mining," which is when miners work backwards, removing beams as they go and allowing the roofs to collapse into an open space, can cause collapses when the next set of supports feels the weight and strain in the process. Despite the best of intentions, certain mine collapses are unpreventable.

Coal Dust Explosions - These explosions are a frequent occurrence and hazard in mines. The explosions occur through the fast combustion of dust particles suspended in the air in an enclosed location. Ignition of the dust particles can happen in any number of ways and a naked flame does not need to present for ignition. Friction, hot surfaces, electrostatic discharge, or simply fire can cause an underground explosion, putting miners’ lives in danger, particularly within the confined spaces of mining.

Mining-Induced Seismicity - This refers to typically minor earthquakes and tremors caused by miner activity that can alter the stresses and strains of the Earth's crust. Most seismicity is of an extremely low magnitude, but the sudden shift in rock causes these earthquake-like events that can still collapse mine workings, kill miners, and also damage structures on the surface.

There remains a long list of potential injuries for our coal miners. Everything from soft tissue damage, spinal cord injuries, hearing loss, and fractures, not to mention dismemberment. Through safety legislation alongside improved training practices and technology, mining has become largely safer especially in recent years, leaving deaths and injuries in steep decline, though any level remains unacceptable to the mining community.

For further insight to coal mining, tune in when Coal airs Sundays at 8PM/7c. Until then, look for more exclusive Coal content on, Facebook, and Twitter.