West Virginia coal mining hazardous to mine workers’ health and safety

West Virginia coal miners are at risk of injury and illness, but legal remedies may be available.

As of November 7, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration or MSHA reports that 13 U.S. coal miners have died at work so far in 2014. Three of them died working underground in West Virginia mines in two separate accidents. The agency cites as accident causes in the West Virginia incidents ineffective mining procedures; insufficient training; and operator failure to recognize mining hazards.

West Virginia coal mining by the numbers

According to The West Virginia Encyclopedia, more than 21,000 miners have died in West Virginia mines since records started being kept in 1883. The U.S. Energy Information Administration or EIA reports that West Virginia was the second largest coal producing state in 2012, after Wyoming. For underground coal mining, the state is first in the nation; and the industry generates about 30,000 West Virginia jobs, says the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training.

Coal miner occupational risk

Coal mine safety is highly regulated by federal and state governments. Nevertheless, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that coal miners are still more at risk of work-related injury, disease or death than are other workers in private industry. Many workplace dangers exist such as dusty air, underground mine roof and walls that can cave in, heavy machinery and motor vehicle movement, elevated noise levels, combustible materials and more.

Here are some common injuries and illnesses of which coal miners are at particular risk:

  • Black lung, silicosis and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD from coal dust
  • Slips and falls may cause musculoskeletal injuries and head trauma
  • Crushing and amputating injuries
  • Loss of sight or hearing
  • Death
  • And more

Seek legal counsel

Anyone hurt on the job (or the survivors of anyone killed) in a West Virginia coal mining operation should speak with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible to understand what legal rights exist.

First, a claim should be filed for workers' compensation, which is normally the exclusive legal remedy against an employer for a work-related injury regardless of who was at fault. (If the miner has developed "black lung" or pneumoconiosis from coal dust, federal Black Lung benefits may be available.)

However, if a West Virginia employer injures or causes the death of an employee with "deliberate intention," then the worker or his or her survivors may be able to sue the employer in addition to a workers' comp claim. The employer's negligence or recklessness is not enough to trigger the deliberate-intention exception to workers' compensation being the exclusive remedy.

In addition to workers' compensation, a knowledgeable work injury lawyer will investigate the incident to determine whether a third-party personal injury lawsuit against someone other than the employer may be warranted. For example, if the manufacturer of heavy mining equipment put out a faulty or dangerous product, that company may be liable; or if negligent maintenance was done on a motor vehicle used in coal operations and the negligence caused injury, that service provider could be responsible.

A West Virginia law firm like Charleston's Johnstone & Gabhart, LLP, can answer all legal questions related to coal mining injuries, diseases and fatalities.

Keywords: West Virginia, coal mining, miner, worker, safety, MSHA, fatality, accident, injury