While the explosion at West Virginia's Big Upper Branch coal mine highlights the dangers of underground mining, the high-risk industry remains near the low end of occupational injuries and deaths in the U.S.
The government tracks every workplace accident from the merest sprain to deadly catastrophes and has found that, on average, about .0036 percent of all workers die from injuries sustained on the job each year.
If you're reading this from behind a desk, you're probably in safe hands. But if you think you're getting worn down by your daily grind, have a look at the worst of the worst, a macabre reminder of the dangers involved in some of the country's most vital industries.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, deep-sea fishermen and loggers engage in the deadliest trades. Fishermen die at 35 times the rate of all workers, and loggers die at 32 times the overall rate. Here are the figures from 2008, the latest available:
2008 Fatalities Rate per 100K
Total (all occupations) 5,071 3.6
Fishers and related fishing workers 50 128.9
Logging workers 82 115.7
Aircraft pilots and flight engineers 90 72.4
Structural iron and steel workers 36 46.4
Farmers and ranchers 317 39.5
Refuse and recyclable material collectors 31 36.8
Roofers 69 34.4
Electrical power-line installers and repairers 35 29.8
Driver/sales workers and truck drivers 815 22.8
Coal mining 26 21.9
Mining (all) 175 18.0
Construction 966 11.7
Sales and office 354 1.1
Coal miners are about six times as likely to die from workplace accidents as the national average, government figures show. And even without the explosions and cave-ins that rock the coal belt every year, their trade is dangerous, indeed.
Coal miners face severe injuries and are twice as likely to suffer bone fractures, generally spending quadruple the time of the average worker recovering from injuries they sustain below-ground. Like most of the other industries listed above, their use of heavy machinery often puts them at great risk.
In 2008, 26 coal miners were killed by cave-ins and other accidents — a toll nearly matched in a single day at the Big Upper Branch Mine, where 25 were killed Monday night. There was also tragic spike in 2006, in part because of the Sago Mine disaster in central West Virginia. An explosion at a mine trapped 13 workers for two days, claiming the lives of 12. After an all-out rescue attempt, just one miner was pulled out alive.
Here are the government's figures on annual coal mining fatalities since 1992: