Coal industry faces dangerous time

Coal industry faces dangerous time

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – One miner was killed and a second was seriously injured Monday in what has become the deadliest year in the nation’s coal mines in a decade.

And the industry, reeling from the 43 deaths so far in 2006, still faces the most dangerous time of the year: the winter.

Federal statistics show most coal mine explosions occur during winter. Cold, dry air makes it more difficult to control methane gas and coal dust, the key sources of most coal mine explosions.

The death Monday raised the number of coal mine deaths this year in West Virginia to 22, including the 12 men killed in the Sago Mine accident on Jan. 2.

Nationally, 43 coal miners have died this year, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. That is the industry’s highest since 1995, when 47 were killed, according to MSHA.

The number of deaths and new federal and state mining rules have pushed safety to the forefront, industry officials said.

“I think there’s no question that safety is priority No. 1 going into this winter,” said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association.

The association has been stressing safety at a series of meetings held across the country to review new state and federal rules, Popovich said.

The latest accident underscores the importance of safety regardless of season, said Lara Ramsburg, a spokeswoman for West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin. She said state officials and the administration are working on legislation to account for the lessons of the past year.

“We need to continue that effort and not let up and not be complacent,” she said, “as today’s incident shows.”

A spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America said safety isn’t seasonal to the labor union. The union represents workers at the site of Monday’s accident, Bluestone Coal’s Double Bonus No. 65 Mine on Pinnacle Creek in southern West Virginia. The mine employs 71 people, according to MSHA.

“I don’t know that we’re doing anything different than what we normally do, which is to maintain a safe eye as it were,” said Phil Smith, who added that union members understand that winter can be more dangerous.

“Whether nobody’s been killed or 43 people have been killed, it’s still a dangerous place to work if you’re not careful,” he said.

That lesson was reinforced Monday.

The victims were preparing to work on a shuttle car on a slope about 7 a.m. when the coal transporting vehicle moved, said Caryn Gresham, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training.

The miner who was killed was crushed between the shuttle and the mine’s wall, she said. The other miner, a mechanic, suffered shoulder and chest injuries. He was taken to a Charleston hospital, where his condition was not known.

A representative of Bluestone, which
Securities and Exchange Commission records show is owned by James C. Justice Industries Inc., did not immediately return a phone call.

The Double Bonus Mine, which opened June 23, 2004, is a relatively small operation. MSHA records show it has produced 193,397 tons thus far in 2006. Last year the mine produced 542,993 tons.

The mine has been cited for 152 state violations and there have been two injuries that caused miners to miss time at work. Both occurred in 2004.

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