A look at safety in West Virginia coal mines

 January 27, 2016 

People who work in any facet of the coal mining industry in West Virginia know all too well how serious the risk of fatal accidents can be. Whether explosions, improperly maintained equipment, lack of following stated safety protocol or more, the range of factors that can lead to a deadly accident in a coal mine is long. Both underground and surface mine workers are at risk and their families must face this risk with them every day that they head off to work.

Reports of improved safety

Both the Courier Journal and Fox Business have recently published reports indicating that the fatality rate in the nation’s coal mines has hit an all-time low. While this is good news, it is important to note that the number of people employed at coal mines in West Virginia has also dropped. Additionally, even one death is one too many. Mine Safety and Health Administration data shows that 119 West Virginia coal miners died between 2004 and 2015.

However, the reduction in fatalities is said to be due in part to increased federal oversight that was launched after a Massey Energy mine explosion in 2010 that killed several workers. The government initiated a targeted effort to inspect mines for specific violations.

An initial list of 51 mines for inspection included 42 coal mines. Reports also state that worn or unsafe equipment, such as shuttle cars, were one of the primary contributing factors in the 2010 accident. Unsafe levels of both methane and coal dust were also noted. The man who was the CEO of Massey Energy could spend as many as 31 years in federal prison for his role in the accident.

A history of safety in America’s coal mines

It was in 1891 that the U.S. legislation enacted the nation’s first safety requirements for coal mining according to the MSHA. Several other laws were enacted over the ensuing years with one of the most sweeping happening in 1969. Known as the Coal Act, this legislation established guidelines that required four annual inspections for every underground coal mine and two annual inspections for every surface coal mine. It also outlined both financial and criminal penalties for violations.

Options for victims of coal mine accidents

Certainly seeking medical treatment for any non-fatal accidents is always the priority. After that, however, talking to an attorney should be at the top of the list for any injured worker or surviving family member.