Monday's tragedy at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia illustrates how dangerous mining can be.
But, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is not the most deadly industry in the United States.
According to the data, logging is the most deadly industry in America with a fatality rate of about 108 loggers per 100,000 full-time workers compared to a fatality rate of 21.9 in the coal mining industry. In fact, coal mining ranks seventh below job categories like "fishing, hunting and trapping," "crop production," and "water transportation."
Overall the latest numbers show a 10 percent decrease in workplace fatalities from the year before with a total of 5,071 deaths reported in 2008. "Economic factors likely played a role in the fatality decrease," according to a statement from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Workplace fatalities involving fires and explosions increased 14 percent in 2008 with a total of 173 deaths reported across all US industries.
While workplace deaths are on the decline, there are increasing questions about the reliability of workplace injury data. In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a total of 3.7 million workplace injuries or illnesses down 7.5 percent from the previous year. But an article on FairWarning.org, a health and safety website, calls those numbers into question.
A March 23 article found "Employers have financial motives for fudging injury records, observers say, including a desire to cut workers compensation costs and avoid safety inspections."
Editor of FairWarning.org, Myron Levin, says "I think the Bureau of Labor Statistics does the best job they can with the information they have. But, there is a "garbage in, garbage out" aspect to some of this."
Since 1992 workplace deaths have only decreased about twenty percent while the numbers for workplace injuries and illnesses have fallen by more than half. "One would think if the death rates, which are counted more or less accurately, are going down moderately, that injuries would be declining in similar way," said Levin. He went on to say "Anytime you have any sort of data based on self-reporting by people who would like to make the record look really good, whether in occupational safety or anything else it should be taken with a grain of salt."