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Upper Big Branch mine disaster inspires better focus on safety

Miners in New Jersey could be benefiting from more inspections by regulators. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration announced a substantial reduction in miner deaths between 2014 and 2015. Following the deadly accident in the Upper Big Branch mine operated by Massey Energy in 2010, the administration began focusing its efforts on mines with poor safety records.

The explosion that killed 29 workers at the Massey mine was one of the deadliest mining accidents in U.S. history. In that incident, regulators insisted that the company had been violating safety regulations and best practices. The accident led to an investigation of Massey Energy's CEO. He eventually went to trial and was found guilty of participating in a conspiracy to break safety rules.

In addition to more inspections at problem mines, the MSHA chief said they applied greater attention to outreach and education efforts across the industry. He credited these efforts with a reduction in mineworker fatalities from 45 in 2014 to 28 deaths in 2015. Numerous closures of coal mines across the country most likely also contributed to the lower figure. Even so, the administration has overseen a decrease in mining fatalities since being established in 1978. In that year alone, 242 workers died in mines.

When someone is hurt or killed on the job, the workers' compensation insurance paid for by the employer is supposed to provide benefits. No negligence needs to be proven for a worker to receive compensation. Applying for benefits, however, could be a complex process. A person might request that an attorney prepare the application, especially if an employer is limiting access to information about benefits. After examining an insurance policy, an attorney might be able to communicate directly with the company and urge it to meet the needs of the injured worker.

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