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MSHA Investigates Fatal Mine Shaft Explosion

Mining deaths dropped to a new low in 2002, but only one month into the new year and it is shaping up to be a bad year for miners.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is investigating the cause of a fatal shaft explosion at the Mc Elroy Mine in Marshall County, W.Va. Three miners died and three miners were injured in the blast, which occurred over the weekend.

"I have directed the investigation team to identify all the root causes of the explosion. We will analyze what caused this tragedy and we also want to use the information to prevent similar situations in the future," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Dave D. Lauriski. "We will use all the tools provided in federal mine safety and health law enforcement, education and training, and technical assistance to enhance safety for all miners."

The MSHA team investigating the shaft explosion has expertise in a variety of specialties. James Oakes, manager of MSHA's District 8 office in Vincennes, Ind., is leading the team. Other team members are: Clete Stephan and Richard Stoltz, mining engineers from the agency's Technical Support division in Pittsburgh, Pa.; Virgil Brown, a specialist with the agency's Mine Emergency Unit in Beckley, W.Va.; Joseph Tortorea, a mining engineer from New Stanton, Pa.; Robert Penigar, a mine inspector from Kittanning, Pa; Jerry Vance, an education and training specialist with the agency's Educational Field Services organization in Morgantown W.Va.; and James M. Crawford, an attorney from the Department of Labor's Office of the Solicitor, Division of Mine Safety and Health, Arlington, Va.

"Our hearts go out to the families of the miners who lost their lives in the explosion, and to those miners who were injured," Lauriski said. "They will be the first to be informed of our findings once the investigation is completed. Then we also will share the results of the investigation with miners and mine operators throughout the nation. Our goal is to instill safety as a value throughout the mining industry and make sure every miner comes home safely at the end of every working shift."

MSHA's investigation into the Mc Elroy shaft explosion includes an investiation of the accident site, review of mine records, and interviews individuals who may have information about the sequence of events leading to the explosion.

Fatalities in the nation's coal mining sector dropped dramatically in 2002, setting an unprecedented low with 27 deaths, compared with 42 in 2001. The previous coal low fatality record was 29, set in 1998.

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