Workers in West Virginia coal mines encounter dangerous circumstances many Charleston residents may find hard to imagine. An incapacitating respiratory illness may be caused by inhaling poisonous substances. Equipment failures and miscommunication can lead to permanent injuries. Death in a mine collapse may depend upon one person's careless attitude toward safety.
A coal mine is a hazardous environment unless mine owners and operators commit to preventing health problems and underground and surface accidents. Safeguarding miners is an ongoing job that starts with planning and worker training in compliance with mine safety laws. Unfortunately, the effort to protect workers is sometimes not as attractive to mine companies as the desire to profit from what coal miners do.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration routinely inspects mines and enforces provisions of the Mine Act, formally known as the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. The agency investigates mine complaints and accidents and penalizes violators. MSHA also develops safety regulations, like an August 2014 update in black lung worker protection rules.
The new coal dust sampling regulations requires mine officials to test the quality of the air miners breathe above and below the ground more frequently. MSHA now demands operators to act immediately whenever coal dust levels are unsafe. The regulations also allow MSHA to issue more citations, beef up certification requirements for sampling personnel and upgrade miner medical surveillance.
MSHA pointed to the need for the new rules by citing deplorable coal dust conditions at a Rhino Eastern coal mine in Wyoming County. West Virginia's Eagle Mine 3 was heavily cited for failing to ventilate and otherwise protect miners from inhaling coal dust. This is a single hazard among many mine dangers that can sicken, injure or kill.
Injured coal miners receive benefits through workers' compensation insurance. In some circumstances, much-needed additional compensation is available through legal claims against one or more negligent third parties.
Source: Mine Safety and Health Administration, "From the Assistant Secretary's Desk -- August 1 marks new and historic protections against black lung disease for U S underground and surface coal miners." Sep. 02, 2014