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Just over three years ago, the nation was reminded of the horrific risks associated with the mining industry. The Sago Mine Disaster, as it is now known, resulted in the deaths of 12 people in small West Virginia town. About twenty months after that incident, another mine collapsed in Utah, resulting in the deaths of six miners and three would-be rescuers. At the time, those stories painted a grim picture of this oft-forgotten sector of the American economy.

Figures recently released by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) suggest that the mining industry has finally turned the corner in terms of employee safety. According to the agency, 51 mine workers were killed in 2008, the lowest number since the records began in 1910. Stricter enforcement of safety standards appears to be the reason for the dip in fatalities.

Unfortunately, mine workers in other parts of the world may not enjoy the same level of safety. In China, conflicting reports about mine safety suggest that workers face not only the inherent dangers of their work, but also the possibility of a cover-up by their employer.

An increased commitment to safety has led to an appreciable decrease in mining deaths. If this same commitment is applied in other industries, workers can begin to realize unprecedented levels of safety. While it is unlikely that accidents will ever be completely prevented, any reduction in injuries or deaths is good news for workers and their families.

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