W.Va. mine safety talks should wrap up by midweek

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 23, 2013 at 8:51 am •  Published: February 23, 2013
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It was the second fatal accident at that mine this month, and state inspectors had been onsite giving safety talks shortly before Myles' death.

Edward Finney, 43, of Bluefield, Va., died at Affinity on Feb. 7 after a hoist moved unexpectedly as he was pushing a scoop bucket insert full of trash onto it. The preliminary investigation suggests the hoist picked up the scoop and trapped Finney underneath.

The mine remains closed. White said regulators are allowing only water pumping and firebossing, or the inspections done before every shift to ensure to identify and correct hazards.

Federal records show that Affinity has been cited for safety violations 65 times since January, for everything from failure to maintain mine and escapeway maps to allowing combustible materials to accumulate. White said he's still gathering state inspection records, which aren't immediately submitted to the regional office.

Pocahontas Coal is a subsidiary of Tennessee-based United Coal Co., which is controlled by Ukraine-based Metinvest. The company this week called the two deaths devastating and said it's working with state and federal investigators.

In March 2012, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration listed the Affinity mine among three that had been caught giving illegal advance warning that inspectors were onsite.

MSHA has repeatedly said such warnings let workers hide dangerous conditions, and Director Joe Main has pushed for higher penalties and fines to deter the practice. So far, though, Congress has yet to act.

The United Mine Workers of America supports both tougher penalties and the kind of safety talks West Virginia is holding.

"We don't see it as an either-or," spokesman Phil Smith said. "Our experience is that it's good any time to reinforce a culture of safety at the workplace."

"It's also critical for penalties to fit the crime," he added. "If your or my life was put at risk on the street by someone who knew the law but chose to ignore it, that person would face some pretty severe penalties, including jail time. It should be no different at the workplace."

But White says it's too soon to say whether he'd recommend tougher state penalties for violations because the recent accidents remain under investigation.

"Until I know for sure what the main contributing factors were that caused these accidents, I would be hesitant to make any recommendations," he said. "We've got to figure out why what happened, happened."