Mining

Workers’ Compensation for the Mining Industry

Coal mining is the best known type of mining in the United States, but mining also includes the extraction of all other solid natural resources from the earth.

As mining is a relatively dangerous occupation, workers’ compensation insurance is expensive.

  • The larger mining companies self-insure themselves for work comp.
  • The smaller mining companies buy their coverage from specialty insurers who will write work comp coverage for mining operations.

Mining occurs primarily in the mountains regions of the eastern and western United States. Other areas with mines include the iron ore mines in Minnesota and the salt mines of Louisiana and the salt mines under Lake Erie.

Physical hazards include:

  • Machinery
  • Exposure to dust
  • Various types of manual labor
  • Heavy lifting

Safety issues include:

  • Working with equipment and/or machinery with moving parts
  • Use of proper protective gear
  • Proper lifting techniques

Occupational illnesses, especially lung related diseases, occur when proper protective gear is not used.

The safety programs of the mine operators vary significantly.

  • Mining operators who emphasis safety and compliance with the OSHA rules and regulations have a much lower frequency of accidents than their counterparts who do not promote safety.
  • Mine explosions and other tragedies make safety a key concern among the better mine operators.

The workforce of mining operations is often rugged men who understand how to work in the harsh conditions of a mine.

  • Most of the workforce will have a high school level education and will be from the local area where their fathers, uncles and other relatives have worked in the same mine.
  • The work as a miner is often the highest paid employment available in the local area.

When injuries occur to employees in mining operations, the large operations will have a nurse or doctor on site for treatment of injuries.

For the employees of the smaller mines, medical treatment is often not readily available due to the rural location.

  • The employee or employer selection of the medical providers will be determined by the jurisdiction where the accident occurs.
  • In the states where the employer can select the medical provider, the number of choices may be limited due to the low number and location of medical providers, with most states limiting the distance an employee can be required to travel for medical care.

As the work is difficult and dangerous, coal miners earn on average over $60,000 per year.

  • The work comp weekly indemnity benefits often max out in most states based on the average weekly wage.
  • The employer’s exposure to long term disability benefits is far greater than most industriesdue to occupational diseases related to mining including:
    • Silicosis
    • Pneumoconiosis (black lung disease)
    • Lung cancer

Some of the sub-categories of mining that would have the same or similar work comp issues (but less risk and comparatively lower rates) include:

  • Excavation
  • Dredging
  • Sand and gravel production
  • Open cut mines, strip mines and surface mining
  • Quarries

Transitional / Modified Duties in the Mining Industry

The mining industry is hazardous with jobs that are considered “heavy” in nature. However, accommodating temporary restrictions may be possible in many instances. Placement of employees the company cannot accommodate should be considered with a non-profit agency to keep an employee active and productive versus being at home focused on an injury and disability.

If there is an applicable union contract, be sure to review the terms to verify modified duty is not prohibited or restricted. Examples of transitional accommodation include:

Machine Operator: Consider temporary placement with a mine Safety Inspector to provide assistance and cross train.
Mechanics: Allow repair of machines outside of the mine with another employee to assist with heavy lifting.
Carpenters: Allow another employee to assist with the “heavy” lifting to bring the job tasks in line to match physician assigned abilities.
All Employees: Consider data entry or clerical work in the office that needs to be done as well as light cleaning work.

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