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Coal mining deaths on target for record low in 2015

Coal mining deaths on target for record low in 2015
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U.S. coal mines are set to see their lowest on-the-job death total on record this year. 

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that only 11 miners have died in American coal mines in 2015. The previous record for fewest deaths was in 2014, when 16 people died. 

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A mining industry group attributed the decline to renewed focus on mine safety and a goal of zero annual fatalities. The declining employment in the coal industry could play a role, as well: in November, there were 64,700 workers in the coal industry, down 11 percent from 2014 alone. 

Mining deaths this year came in Pennsylvania (three), West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois (two each), Alabama and Virginia (one each), according to the AP. Seven deaths happened in underground minds, and four were due to structural failures at the facilities. 

While 2015 is set to see record-few deaths, a major mining accident has been in the news for much this year. 

Don Blankenship, the former head of Massey Energy Corp., was convicted this month of conspiring to violate federal safety standards before a 2010 explosion at Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. 

Twenty-nine miners were killed in the accident, and upon his conviction, Blankenship became the first coal executive in U.S. history to be found guilty in connection with the death of miners. Blankenship was convicted on a misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum of one year in prison. 

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has previously cited policy changes after the Upper Big Branch disaster with helping drive down on-the-job mining fatalities.