PRESIDENT Donald Trump has frequently promised to put America’s coal miners “back to work”. But coal mining, unlike property investing, is a dangerous occupation. Fifteen coal miners died on the job in 2017, up from eight the previous year, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). This represents only the third increase in fatalities in 14 years.

America’s coal mines are much safer than they used to be. In the 1990s an average of 45 miners died on the job every year. Since 2010, when a massive explosion in West Virginia killed 29 miners, that figure has been cut nearly in half. Some of the drop can be attributed to market forces: in the past six years coal production has fallen by 30% and employment in the industry has dropped by more than 40%. Mines have also become safer thanks to new government rules and an increase in surprise inspections, known in the industry as “blitzes”.

But now there are concerns that a president who professes to “love” coal miners may be putting them at risk. Mr Trump wants to ease regulations which he believes are holding the industry back. A year ago, he signed an executive order requiring government agencies to repeal two existing regulations for each new one that is proposed, a policy the United Mine Workers of America has called “crazy”. In December, the MSHA announced that it will be reviewing a three-year-old rule designed to protect miners from coal dust, the primary cause of black lung.

Meanwhile, the federal government is facing the prospect of a shutdown this month if Congress fails to pass a long-term spending bill. The last time this occurred, in 2013, the MSHA was forced to reduce its staff temporarily by 60% and cut back on coal-mine inspections. During that two-and-a-half week period, four miners lost their lives.