As Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, was preparing for an interview on West Virginia Metronews’ Talkline to discuss the proposed changes in coal mine safety compliance oversight, he received the tragic news that yet another West Virginia coal miner was killed in a McDowell County mine. Out of the four miners who have been killed in the mines this year, two have been in West Virginia.
This experienced coal miner, a twenty-year veteran of the mines, was fatally injured Monday morning while working underground at the Ramaco Resources Berwind Mine. Steven Hively, age 52, had 20 years of coal mining experience and a number of certifications. He had recently transferred and worked at the Berwind Mine for only a couple of weeks when he was fatally pinned by an air drill. He was reportedly employed by Garrett Mine Service as a contractor working at the mine.
Mr. Roberts stated emphatically that West Virginia coal miners need more, not less oversight and protection. Better laws save lives. After the Farmington mine disaster that killed 78 miners, new laws were enacted that dropped the fatality rate from 30,000 miners killed before the passage of the legislation, and then in the 25 years after the legislation, the miner fatality count was 3,000. One miner killed is one too many, but this illustrates an amazing reduction in the number of miners killed whose families will not need to engage the services of an expert coal mine accident lawyer.
There are at least two very concerning pieces of legislation that have been introduced this session: Senate Bill 252 which would eliminate the right of an injured miner from suing his employer or his family from suing after a wrongful death, and House Bill 4840 which would eliminate inspections and penalties for non-compliance of safety standards in West Virginia coal mines by and cause the West Virginia Office of Mine Safety, Health, and Training. Now, they can inspect and issue penalties if the mines fail to meet safety standards and they can eliminate a mine’s license to operate. If this bill is passed, the office of mine safety would be reduced to more of a training entity with no power to hold wrongdoers accountable.
The last thing we need is less safety and less enforcement of safety laws. West Virginia miners need all of the protection they can get. When you have good laws that are enforced, fewer miners will die.
Jeff Robinette is a West Virginia Coal Mine Injury and Wrongful Death Lawyer.