The Times West Virginian


February 13, 2013

Why aren’t mine safety standards enforced?

Let’s say the speed limit was changed on an interstate in your area — changed from 70 mph to 50. But all the motorists just kept driving 70 and above and no citations were issued.

Or say texting while driving. Let’s say everyone is doing it and no one is charged even through they are deliberately breaking the new law against texting while driving. This would also be a serious crime, don’t you agree?

So what if no one was enforcing the new state regulations aimed at reducing buildups of explosive coal dust in underground mines? More than a fifth of the more than 5,500 dust samples taken from mines by state regulators since August 2011 didn’t comply with the standards.

There have been no citations issued by the State Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training. Not any. None. Nada.

David McAteer, the Fairmont native who was appointed by then-Gov. Joe Manchin to lead the independent team to investigate the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine, called what has been happening, or not been happening, a charade.

“They are going through some motions,” McAteer said, “but nothing has happened. The dust issue was absolutely the most critical failure at the Upper Big Branch mine and three years later, there’s still not a preventative measure in place to keep it from happening again.”

Those are strong words indeed.

Dennis O’Dell, also a Fairmont native, serves as safety director for the United Mine Workers. He says the state has been “dragging its feet too long. If the state is finding violations and they are not issuing citations, then shame on them. Why even do it if you’re not going to use it as an enforcement tool?” These were also strong words by O’Dell.

The standards were issued by Manchin nine days after the deadly explosion. Back then everybody was eager to do whatever was necessary so such a tragedy would never happen again. New regulations were issued. It seemed apparent that the new standards would be followed.

But this most recent report says they have not been.

Randy Harris, a consultant to the mine safety agency, said operators are being notified of the sample results. He said state officials are pushing mine operators to address any dust-control problems. He says his group has been “harassing them to death.”

Just whom is to be believed?

The strong words coming from McAteer and O’Dell are good enough for us. When human lives are involved, people shouldn’t be playing around with mandates from higher-ups on things that should be done — on steps that should be taken.

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