Until the death of Elam Jones last month in an Emery County coal mine, Utah had not lost a miner in an underground accident since nine lives were claimed by two August 2007 implosions at the Crandall Canyon mine.
The 5½-year gap between fatalities reflected an improving safety trend in the country's mines, federal Mine Safety and Health Administration Director Joseph Main said Monday in releasing preliminary fatality and injury-rate statistics for 2012.
"These preliminary numbers clearly slow that actions undertaken by MSHA and the mining industry continue to move mine safety in the right direction," he said in a news release.
Jones was killed March 22 by a large rockfall at what is known as the Rhino mine near the mouth of Huntington Canyon. MSHA is investigating the accident, which also injured another miner working with Jones, 29, a married father of two.
Nineteen coal miners nationwide died on the job last year, the second lowest total in U.S. history. That trails only 2009 when 18 fatalities occurred. The fatality rate also was the second best, while the injury rate was the lowest at 3.15 for every 200,000 hours worked, Main said.
Utah's injury numbers in 2012 tracked that pattern, according to MSHA's statistics.
There were 34 accidents in which miners missed days of work last year because of injuries, the report said. Another 22 injuries were reported that were not severe enough to require miners to take time off. The 56 incidents were the second fewest ever, next to 53 in 2010, and down from 72 in 2011 and 101 in '07, when the Crandall Canyon disaster contributed nine fatalities and six injuries to the toll.
Part of the declines, nationally as well as in Utah, can be attributed to less mining.
Around the country, MSHA's report showed, 108 fewer mines were operating in 2012 than a year earlier (1,973), reducing employment by 6,000 (to 137,361). Production fell by 78 million tons to just more than 1 billion tons.
In Utah, the number of coal miners slipped to an average of 1,404 last year, down 32 from 2011 and down 182 from the recent high of 1,586 miners in 2007. Production has dropped off even more, according to MSHA's figures, from 24 million tons in both 2007 and 2008 to 16.3 million tons last year.