By DENNIS B. RODDY AND CINDI LASH
February 06, 2006
The unprecedented move will cover each of the state's 350 deep mines and 200 surface mines. The aggressive round of inspections was ordered after Gov. Joe Manchin called for operators to delay each shift yesterday for an hour-long review of safety regulations.
Federal mining officials also have asked all mine operators around the country to conduct similar reviews of procedures, equipment and compliance with standards in a "Stand Down for Safety" initiative on Monday.
In a letter to mine operators around the country, David G. Dye, acting assistant secretary for mine safety and health, issued an appeal for a "proactive approach to accident prevention." He urged operators to eliminate hazards, teach safe practices to miners and ensure constant and consistent adherence to mining plans and safety regulations.
"It's not a pep rally. It's telling the miners and committing the mine operators themselves to work right, to make the right decision," said Bob Friend, the second-in-command at the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Friend said 113 MSHA inspectors, along with an additional 100 federal employees from around the country, are being dispatched to West Virginia Monday to assist in the program. They will remain in the state to make inspections and ensure compliance with federal mining regulations.
Inspectors will begin work at mines with higher-than-average numbers of accidents and violations but had not determined yesterday which mines would be first.
"We will not overlook any area during these investigations," Friend said.
Dye has asked West Virginia mining officials for previous inspection notes and other records to assist inspectors with their reviews, Friend said.
MSHA officials acted one day after Manchin asked all mines in West Virginia to delay shifts by at least an hour to review safety regulations and announced plans for statewide inspections. West Virginia mining inspectors usually conduct quarterly reviews.
The governor acted hours after two miners died and a third was seriously injured Wednesday in the latest round of accidents that have killed 16 West Virginia miners in the space of 30 days. Last year, a total of three miners died on the job in the state.
Manchin, who spent most of Thursday in the state's southern coal counties meeting with families of the miners killed and injured in Wednesday's accidents, said the statewide stand-down was going well. He and other state officials said they knew of no coal companies that did not participate.
"Everyone's complied," he said. "We got word the federal government's going to be sending us some help. Everyone knows how serious we are about safety and I understand every operation, before every shift, some during their shift, stopped work last night." Manchin said the families of the two miners who died Wednesday also expressed gratitude for his decision to halt work for safety checks.
"They all knew about it. Mining families, especially, know what's going on. They were very appreciative," he said.
Manchin's statewide call for mines to halt production came after three telephone calls in a 90-minute period informed him that two miners had died and a third had been seriously injured.
At that point, the governor summoned Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, to his office to request a stand-down.
"I was here in the Capitol, in the lobby, doing what lobbyists do" when summoned downstairs to the governor's office, Raney said. "By the time we got back to meet with the governor, it was already two fatalities."
While stand-downs are occasionally used in mine safety, an industry-wide action of the type that unfolded yesterday has never been requested by a state official before, according to Chris Hamilton, vice president for the coal association.
Raney's group represents 50 companies with as many as 35,000 employees, accounting for 80 percent of the coal mined in West Virginia. He said members signed on to the program enthusiastically.
"Some started in mid-shift," he said.
The program was announced one month to the day after an explosion inside the Sago Mine in Upshur County trapped 13 men underground. Twelve of them died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The sole survivor of the Sago explosion, Randal McCloy Jr., remains in a rehabilitation center after spending more than two weeks in a coma.
On Jan. 19, a fire killed two miners at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in Melville, Logan County.
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