The Times West Virginian

March 10, 2013

Zero must be number to aim for when it comes to safety in mines

Times West Virginian

— There have been many advancements made in mine safety nationwide within the past 100 years.

Unfortunately, many of those advancements have come after tragedies within the industry. Consider the 1907 explosion in Monongah, caused by the ignition of methane gas and fueled by coal dust. We’ll never know the exact count of those who perished underground that day, though the death toll was reported at 362, because of the practice of taking young boys into the mines to increase productivity for families who were paid by the ton as opposed to by the hour.

In response to the explosion — the worst mining disaster in American history — Congress created the Bureau of Mines in 1910 to conduct research and to reduce future accidents in coal mines.

Again in 1968, tragedy struck another Marion County mine when 78 men were killed at the Farmington No. 9 mine. Public outcry prompted Congress to pass the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. The far-reaching legislation expanded federal enforcement, required several annual inspections, increased safety standards and included miners’ rights to be proactive in the safety of their workplace by having the ability and responsibility to report violations.

Since then, safety at mines is considered paramount. And it takes industry leaders, lawmakers, union representatives and the owners of mines to continue to improve safety for the men and women who go underground each day to keep our lights on and the economy of our state moving forward.

Unfortunately, in an industry that uses large machinery in volatile areas, accidents still happen that claim lives. And we learn from each accident how better to protect current and future miners from such accidents in the future and how to improve rescue and recovery operations.

But the ultimate goal, of course, is to never have another mining disaster again.

Consol Energy President Nicholas DeIuliis told industry leaders and lawmakers during last week’s West Virginia Coal Association’s 40th Annual Mining Symposium that “zero” is the target number.

“We can’t be satisfied with just incremental improvements,” DeIuliis said. “The only acceptable result for everyone in the industry and everyone in the room should be zero fatalities and zero injuries.”

DeIuliis acknowledged that Consol has suffered two fatalities in Marion County since December. On Nov. 30, Markel J. Koon was killed when a coal slurry impoundment bank collapsed at the Robinson Run. On Feb. 12, Glen Clutter was killed after being hit on the head with a metal bar at the Loveridge Mine.

“We’ve suffered tragic fatalities ourselves within our company,” DeIuliis said. “Those fatalities have tested our spirit. It’s not just a statistic. It rips through families, communities and the entire industry.”

Six coal miners died nationwide within a 25-day period between late January and mid February, four in West Virginia, prompting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to halt operations on Feb. 20 at all state coal mines for one hour to review safety regulations with employees.

“We’ve lost too many miners in this state,” House Majority Whip Mike Caputo said during a press conference that announced the one-hour statewide safety halt last month. “These accidents can stop. Coal companies have to take time at every shift ... to make these men and women aware of what’s going on.”

One death is too many. We have to learn from every single incident and accident — fatal or not — and make sure that the environment we send our miners into each and every day is as safe as possible.

Zero is a good number to aim for — zero fatalities, zero accidents, zero tolerance for failure to maintain safety procedures and reporting.

Our state’s miners deserve nothing less.