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After recent spate of miner deaths in West Virginia, new safety rules desperately needed

Coal Miners, Photo by Earl DotterIn the past two weeks, four miners have been killed on the job in West Virginia. In response, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered a halt in production this week – for one hour – to review safety laws and procedures.

"Yes, after a slew of on-the-job fatalities in any industry, it is beneficial to take time to review safety standards to prevent further injury, if only for an hour, but Gov. Tomblin's work doesn't stop there," National COSH’s Tom O’Connor told Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette, a news organization that is feverishly covering mine safety in West Virginia. 

You see, Gov. Tomblin helped push mine safety legislation last year that would implement tougher methane-monitoring requirements for underground coal mines, increase fines for violators, and require close supervision of apprentice miners. But these provisions have been delayed repeatedly.

"What is really needed is for the Tomblin administration to take action on the critically important mining safety measures mandated by the 2012 legislation," O'Connor said. "What is not needed is further watering down of the rules under pressure from the mining industry.

"The rules are already overdue, and miners clearly are paying the price, as we have seen with the latest series of deaths."

Only then, by cracking down on faulty or negligent employers and guarding miners from hazards on the job, will Gov. Tomblin really take the action necessary to protect the state’s miners.

Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety members said they hoped to look at a draft of the rules at their March meeting, and then determine how quickly they can issue a proposed rule for public comment, Ward reported. (Read a detailed account of the proposed rules.) 

National COSH will continue to follow this story and report back on developments in this critically needed update to mine safety rules in the wake of the Upper Big Branch tragedy, as well as the recent spate of miners being killed on the job.

(Above photo by Earl Dotter.)

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