In light of the recent West Virginia coal mining deaths, here is a chart I generated (click on it for a larger view) from data from the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) that shows the percentage of coal mining fatalities from 1900 to 2008:
The data show that there has been a general downward trend in the percentage of mining fatalities. Despite the recent calls for stricter regulation, it’s also interesting to note that this chart seems to show that the introduction of the federal government’s enforcement role in regulating mine safety didn’t appear to have any noticeable effect on the percentage of fatalities. Actual federal enforcement powers were not granted until 1952, and MSHA wasn’t formed until 1978.
Perhaps improvements in technology have contributed most to the decline in fatalities — not to mention the increased media coverage of these incidents. With such coverage, the mining companies have an increased incentive to prevent fatalities.