Profitability and occupational injuries in U.S. underground coal mines

Accid Anal Prev. 2013 Jan;50:778-86. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2012.07.002. Epub 2012 Aug 11.


Background: Coal plays a crucial role in the U.S. economy yet underground coal mining continues to be one of the most dangerous occupations in the country. In addition, there are large variations in both profitability and the incidence of occupational injuries across mines.

Objective: The objective of this study was to examine the association between profitability and the incidence rate of occupational injuries in U.S. underground coal mines between 1992 and 2008.

Data and method: We used mine-specific data on annual hours worked, geographic location, and the number of occupational injuries suffered annually from the employment and accident/injury databases of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and mine-specific data on annual revenue from coal sales, mine age, workforce union status, and mining method from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. A total of 5669 mine-year observations (number of mines×number of years) were included in our analysis. We used a negative binomial random effects model that was appropriate for analyzing panel (combined time-series and cross-sectional) injury data that were non-negative and discrete. The dependent variable, occupational injury, was measured in three different and non-mutually exclusive ways: all reported fatal and nonfatal injuries, reported nonfatal injuries with lost workdays, and the 'most serious' (i.e. sum of fatal and serious nonfatal) injuries reported. The total number of hours worked in each mine and year examined was used as an exposure variable. Profitability, the main explanatory variable, was approximated by revenue per hour worked. Our model included mine age, workforce union status, mining method, and geographic location as additional control variables.

Results: After controlling for other variables, a 10% increase in real total revenue per hour worked was associated with 0.9%, 1.1%, and 1.6% decrease, respectively, in the incidence rates of all reported injuries, reported injuries with lost workdays, and the most serious injuries reported.

Conclusion: We found an inverse relationship between profitability and each of the three indicators of occupational injuries we used. These results might be partially due to factors that affect both profitability and safety, such as management or engineering practices, and partially due to lower investments in safety by less profitable mines, which could imply that some financially stressed mines might be so focused on survival that they forgo investing in safety.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational / economics*
  • Accidents, Occupational / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adult
  • Binomial Distribution
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Coal Mining / economics*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Occupational Health / economics*
  • Occupational Injuries / economics*
  • Occupational Injuries / epidemiology*
  • United States / epidemiology