Alabama has deep roots and even deeper memory. Any coal miner in Walker, Jefferson, or Tuscaloosa County has surely heard of the Banner mine disaster of 1911. On a rainy day in April, a coal mine explosion killed 128 workers. According to Tuscaloosa News, this hometown tragedy went down in history books as the 15th deadliest coal mine disaster in U.S. history.
The Department of Labor set forth to prevent history from repeating itself with the passing of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act), and the subsequent creation of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). MSHA promotes safe working conditions and practices to prevent illness, injury and death among U.S. miners.
The hazards that coal miners face are numerous, but here are a few common ones:
- Coal dust: Consistent inhalation of coal dust can cause what is commonly known as “black lung.”
- Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI): Repetitive or overuse of muscles, bones, nerves and tendons can result in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
- Vibration: Working with heavy equipment and machinery can expose workers to whole-body vibration (WBV), potentially resulting in nerve damage.
- Noise: Prolonged exposure to noise ranging from 70 – 100 decibels can cause hearing damage.
- Chemical hazards: Coal miners are often exposed to polymeric chemicals that can cause respiratory problems, poisoning and burns.
- Thermal stress: Prolonged exposure to high heat and humidity can have various adverse effects on a worker’s health.
The coal mining industry has come a long way in Alabama, but certain inherent risks and hazards persist. Thankfully, nothing like the Banner disaster has occurred in modern times. However, the brave men and women who work in Alabama’s coal mines put their health and lives at risk daily by the mere nature of the job. If an Alabaman coal miner is suffering from health problems or injuries, a good first step in the right direction is to discuss their rights with a compassionate advocate experienced in coal mining cases.