More Mining Deaths Prompt Calls for Safety Stand-Downs

The deaths of two more West Virginia coal miners yesterday which brought the state's mining death toll this year to 16 prompted Gov. Joe Manchin to call for a statewide mine safety stand-down.

"This means that starting with the current shift, and each new shift after that, the mine companies, supervisors and the miners themselves are to engage in a thorough review of safety procedures before any work is to continue," Manchin said yesterday. He added that the Mine Safety and Health Administration has agreed to send additional inspectors to West Virginia to respond to what MSHA Administrator David Dye called "the unusually high number of mine fatalities" in the state this year.

Also yesterday, Dye asked coal mines across the country to conduct a stand-down for safety on Feb. 6. While 2005 was the safest year for mining on record, so far this year 19 miners 16 in West Virginia, two in Kentucky and one in Utah have died.

"I am asking miners and management at every mine operation to do the right thing: Take 1 hour out for safety's sake this Monday and stand down for safety, to be proactive in preventing future accidents and saving lives," Dye said. "This Monday, we urge that extra time be taken, at the beginning of each shift and before the start of any mining activity, to go over the hazards involved with mining and the vital safeguards that need to be taken."

MSHA said it will send packets of safety information to stakeholders for discussion at coal mines as well as post information regarding the safety stand-down on its Web site.

Manchin said that there were incidents at three separate coal mines yesterday at two underground mines and one surface mine. The two fatalities occurred at Elk Run Coal Co.'s Black Castle Mine and Long Branch Energy's No. 18 Tunnel Mine, according to MSHA.

In response to yesterday's mining fatalities, United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts urged union coal mines in West Virginia "to undertake a meticulous inspection of their mines." Roberts said the Long Branch Energy mine is represented by UMWA.

If operators of union mines fail to cooperate with inspections, Roberts added, "the union will consider taking further action under the authority of the union's collective bargaining agreements with the operators."

"We support Gov. Manchin's call for a stand-down of mines in West Virginia until there is a thorough review of safety procedures," Roberts said. "At non-union mines, that means the governor will have to rely on the word of the operator that the mine has carried out his directive. The UMWA will be taking that a step further at union mines with the order for a full safety inspection."

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