Critical Thinking About Mine Safety in West Virginia

Critical Thinking About Mine Safety in West Virginia

As a recent transplant to West Virginia, I have had little personal experience with the coal mining industry that is such an essential part of this state's economy. Of Boardas_0216.jpgcourse, I had general ideas as to what coal mining involved; holes and tunnels dug deep into the ground, miners working to remove the coal from dark caves, and special machinery used to dig and transport the coal. I know that the process poses a variety of significant safety risks to miners, but I always assumed that for an industry that is both essential to the economy and potentially very dangerous, every possible precaution would be taken to help ensure miners' safety and reduce the risk of accidents. As I become more familiar with West Virginia, and the issues important to our state, I have come to learn that my assumption about mining safety is not entirely accurate, and that miners and their families are forced to work hard to try to prevent tragedies, especially where the legislature and regulatory boards refuse to do so.

Recently, the West Virginia Gazette reported the story of a young woman named Caitlin O'Dell who appeared at a monthly meeting of the West Virginia Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety. Following a tragic accident where her husband was crushed to death by a scooping machine in an underground coal mine, Mrs. O'Dell was determined to convey a message that the board has heard time and again: that rules requiring "proximity detection" devices in mines are a necessity to protect miners. Despite the fact that this issue has been raised repeatedly over the past several years, and despite the fact that accidents similar to the one that killed Mrs. O'Dell's husband continue to claim the lives of miners, the board has chosen to sit on the proposed safety requirements. No rules or regulations have been passed that require proximity detection systems. This meeting was no different, and the proposal to require proximity detection devices failed, with a 3-3 vote.

Government and regulatory inaction in regards to the health and safety of miners coalminer.jpg has been even more troubling in light of the recent government shut-down. In response to the shut-down, the Mining Safety and Health Administration has been conducting fewer inspections, and has focused inspection resources on those mines deemed to be "high hazard" locations. On each day of this past weekend, where inspections may be even less likely to occur due to lack of employees available to conduct them, a miner has lost his life in an on-the-job accident. One of these deaths occurred in Moundsville, West Virginia. Another involved an accident in which an underground cart rolled over a worker, presumably the type of accident the proximity detection devices are designed to help prevent. While these recent deaths cannot be conclusively attributed to the government furlough, the situation highlights the need for prevention, rather than relying solely on inspections and measures taken in response to accidents. Rules requiring mines to instill and operate safety measures at all times could help ensure that miners' safety is not compromised by a lack of government employees to conduct inspections and supervisory measures. To be sure, inspections are an essential part of maintaining safety in the mines, but the message that is becoming increasingly clear is that prevention must be the next step taken, and it must be taken at once.

By appearing in person to urge the board to take action on these long-stagnant proposals, Mrs. O'Dell hoped to press the issue and effect change. She represented a man who may very well still be alive if proximity detection devices were required and used in every mine. As she herself asserted, her goal was to prevent another accident for another family, and she hoped this would be the goal of the board as well. While recognizing that the damage to her family had been done, Mrs. O'Dell sought to make the most out of her loss, and speak as an advocate for improvement in the future. While it is unfortunate that her words did not prompt the immediate response of the board at that particular meeting, her efforts certainly cannot be said to have been a waste. Mrs. O'Dell's story serves as a reminder that individuals will continue to hold responsible parties accountable, Coal.jpgeven in situations where, as here, elected and appointed officials have failed to adequately protect those they serve. Attending a meeting, writing letters or making telephone calls to elected officials or regulatory bodies, signing petitions, and sharing news stories are just some of the ways that people can voice their support for proposed regulations or demand a change.

Another way to hold responsible parties accountable and voice the need for better precautionary methods is through litigation. Lawsuits serve to help the injured person and their family recover from a tragedy, but also serve the broader purpose of shining light upon the failure of current health or safety mechanisms, and demanding the enactment of new and improved precautionary measures. Law firms that are especially familiar with workplace injuries and the mining industry can be powerful advocates for those who have been injured or killed as the result of inadequate safety precautions. As a West Virginia firm with a long history of success in these types of cases, Bordas & Bordas is such an advocate for preventative health and safety measures in the workplace.

It is unfortunate and wrong that the legislature and the West Virginia Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety have repeatedly declined to enact regulations that could likely save miners' lives, but people like Mrs. O'Dell will make sure that the issue is not forgotten. Until the appropriate changes have been made and the best available safety precautions have been enacted to protect those who work in West Virginia coal mines, the West Virginia legislature and the West Virginia Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety can expect to hear from citizens who demand that these governmental and regulatory bodies do what is right to prevent tragedies. Now that I am also a citizen of West Virginia, and an attorney at Bordas & Bordas, I am glad to have the opportunity to voice my support of mining safety and preventative measures that could help save lives.

The results in a legal case depend on a variety of factors, many of which are unique to each case. Prior results by this firm or any other do not guarantee future results. Case results presented here are illustrations of the type of work done by Bordas & Bordas and not a guarantee that any prospective case will yield any particular amount.