Learn about your right to workers’ comp benefits and how to file a claim after suffering an injury or illness while working in a coal mine
Workers in the North Carolina coal mining industry face significant health and safety risks, including a heightened risk of diseases such as black lung and COPD. If you’ve suffered a serious injury, illness or disease as a coal miner, it’s crucial to understand your rights to workers’ compensation.
This guide provides essential information on the common hazards in the coal mining industry, the increased health risks modern miners face compared to their predecessors, and the workers’ comp benefits available in North Carolina to assist workers who suffer on-the-job injuries or health conditions.
For personalized assistance in filing a claim and negotiating with insurance companies to ensure you receive maximum compensation, schedule a free consultation with the experienced Charlotte work injury attorneys at Wilder Pantazis Law Group to discuss your rights.
How common are coal mine accidents?
Coal mining accidents happen far too often and are frequently associated with serious injuries and death.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that between 1979 and 2017, approximately 235,550 coal miners died from work-related causes.
More recently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2021 that fatalities in the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction industries increased by almost 22%, from 78 in 2020 to 95 in 2021. Prior to 2020, for 3 consecutive years, the industry had experienced over 100 fatal injuries annually.
The mining industry experienced a fatal injury rate of 14.2 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2021. By contrast, the private industry’s overall rate was only 3.8 per 100,000, highlighting the dangerous nature of mining work.
Report finds that more coal miners are dying from lung disease now than in previous decades
A CDC report from 2023 found that modern coal miners in the U.S. are facing higher death rates from lung diseases than their predecessors. This conclusion is based on new research analyzing mortality data of 235,550 U.S. coal miners from 1979 to 2017.
So, what is the main cause of death in coal mining?
The study found that miners have a notably increased chance of dying from coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer compared to the general U.S. population. The risk is particularly high in Central Appalachian states, with miners born after 1940 facing over 8 times the odds of dying from nonmalignant respiratory diseases like black lung or COPD.
Additionally, the study noted a higher occurrence of progressive massive fibrosis, a severe lung disease, in younger miners. Beyond respiratory diseases, miners are also at a heightened risk of lung cancer due to exposure to carcinogens like silica and diesel exhaust.
Overall, the findings highlight the need for enhanced prevention efforts, including controlling exposure to coal mine dust and offering lung cancer screenings.
What are the most common injuries in mining?
The most common injuries and illnesses in the mining industry include the following:
- Respiratory diseases. Prolonged exposure to dust can lead to lung diseases like coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (black lung), silicosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Hearing loss. Continuous exposure to loud machinery and equipment noise can cause hearing impairment or loss over time.
- Musculoskeletal injuries. These occur due to repetitive motions, heavy lifting, awkward postures, and overexertion, leading to strains, sprains and back injuries.
- Traumatic injuries. Serious injuries, including spinal cord injuries, brain injuries and bone fractures, can occur from falls, machinery accidents, mine collapses and explosions.
- Chemical exposure. Miners are often exposed to hazardous chemicals that can lead to chemical burns or poisoning.
- Heat stress. Working in deep, hot mines can cause heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
- Vision problems. Poor lighting conditions can lead to eye strain and other vision-related issues over time.
How long does it take to get black lung from coal mining?
The development of black lung disease (coal workers’ pneumoconiosis) from coal mining can vary significantly among individuals. Several factors influence the timeline, including the intensity and duration of coal dust exposure, the type of mining operation, individual health factors, and the use of protective equipment.
With that being said, typically, it takes several years or even decades of prolonged exposure to coal dust for black lung disease to develop. However, in cases of intense exposure, the disease could manifest more quickly. Regular health screenings are crucial for early detection and management of the disease.
Are coal miners in NC eligible for workers’ compensation?
Yes, coal miners in North Carolina are eligible for workers’ compensation. Under North Carolina law, workers in various industries, including mining, are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they suffer a work-related injury, illness or disease.
Employers in North Carolina with 3 or more employees are generally required to carry workers’ compensation insurance to provide these benefits to their employees. Coal miners who sustain injuries or occupational diseases due to their work environment, such as respiratory illnesses like black lung or lung cancer, are thus covered under these provisions as long as they can directly tie their health condition to their job.
How do coal miners prove their respiratory illness was caused by their job?
To prove that their respiratory illness or disease was caused by their job, coal miners can often rely on the established strong correlation between certain respiratory diseases and coal mining work.
Diseases like coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (black lung), certain cancers, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are known to be associated with coal dust exposure, which is inherent in mining environments, making it easier to prove the illness is directly related to their job.
First, miners should obtain a medical diagnosis from a health care professional specializing in occupational diseases. This diagnosis should detail the nature of the respiratory illness and explicitly link it to coal dust exposure. The doctor’s expertise in recognizing patterns and symptoms typical of mining-related respiratory diseases is crucial in establishing this connection.
Next, the miner should provide a comprehensive work history that includes details about their roles, the duration of their employment in mining, and the conditions under which they worked. This should include any known instances of heightened exposure to coal dust or inadequate protective measures. Documentation like employment records, safety reports, and incident logs can be instrumental in painting this picture.
Additionally, witness statements from coworkers or supervisors who can corroborate working conditions and the miner’s exposure to harmful elements can further strengthen the case. In many instances, collective evidence from multiple miners working in similar conditions can be compelling.
It’s often beneficial for coal miners to consult with an attorney specializing in workers’ compensation or occupational diseases. These legal professionals can provide guidance in gathering necessary evidence, navigating the workers’ compensation system, and effectively presenting the case to ensure that miners receive the benefits and compensation they are entitled to.
What workers’ comp benefits are coal workers entitled to?
Coal workers are entitled to various workers’ compensation benefits if they suffer from work-related injuries or illnesses, including:
- Medical benefits. Coverage of all necessary medical treatments related to the work injury or illness. This includes hospital visits, medical procedures, medications, rehabilitation therapies, and any required medical equipment.
- Wage replacement benefits. Compensation for lost wages if the worker is unable to work due to their injury or illness. Typically, this is a percentage of the worker’s average weekly wage, subject to state-specific maximums and minimums.
- Permanent partial disability (PPD) or permanent total disability (PTD) benefits. If the worker sustains a permanent injury, they may be eligible for PPD or PTD benefits, depending on the severity and nature of the impairment.
- Vocational rehabilitation benefits. If the injury or illness prevents the worker from returning to their previous job, they may be eligible for assistance with retraining or job placement services.
- Death benefits. In the event of a fatal work-related injury or illness, the worker’s dependents may be eligible for death benefits, which can include a portion of the worker’s wages and funeral expenses.
- Specific disease benefits. For coal workers, special consideration is given to respiratory diseases commonly associated with coal mining, such as black lung disease. Federal programs like the Black Lung Program provide additional benefits to miners suffering from coal workers’ pneumoconiosis.
Consulting with an attorney experienced in workers’ compensation can be beneficial in navigating the claims process and ensuring full access to all entitled benefits.
How long do coal miners have to report an injury or occupational disease to their employer in NC?
In North Carolina, coal miners, like all other workers, are required to report any work-related injury or occupational disease to their employer within 30 days of its occurrence or 30 days from the date the employee becomes aware of the condition.
For occupational diseases, especially those that develop over time, like black lung disease, the 30-day period starts from the date the worker is informed by a physician that they have a work-related disease or from when they first realize the disease is related to their employment.
After reporting to the employer, the formal workers’ compensation claim process can be initiated, which involves additional steps like submitting a claim form to the North Carolina Industrial Commission within 2 years.
It’s crucial to report the injury or illness within this timeframe to ensure eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits. Delayed reporting can potentially jeopardize the ability to receive these benefits.
Get help from an experienced North Carolina work injury attorney
If you suffered a serious injury or disease after working in a North Carolina coal mine, it’s crucial that you seek the advice of a knowledgeable Charlotte workers’ compensation attorney when filing your claim.