Although federal and West Virginia officials have made a greater effort to improve mine safety, accidents and deaths continue. The latest one occurred in Boone County, where two mine workers were killed as they performed a type of coal removal known to be dangerous.
The coal removal method used is called “retreat mining,” where workers back out of the mine, removing coal pillars that were holding up the roof. In this case, pressure from the ground above caused an abrupt release of rock and coal material from either the wall or roof of the mine. The two miners became trapped among the debris. Attempts to retrieve the men alive were not successful, and hours later their bodies were recovered.
An official from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) stated that the incident was one of “ground failure.” A West Virginia mine safety official characterized it as a “coal outburst.” What that means is that the accident was not just a roof fall, where pieces of roof rock break away and fall. These are often referred to as “outbursts” or “bumps,” which take place because of pressure pushing down onto a wall or roof of the mine, rather than the wall or roof simply collapsing.
While bumps or outbursts can be hard to prevent, studies have also shown that they are not natural environmental reactions, and that proper mine safety and compliance can reduce the risk. That is not likely to happen as long as retreat mining remains in practice. One OSHA official noted that, in order for pulling pillars to be safe, the plan must be followed strictly because even the smallest deviation could have terrible consequences.
The deaths in the Brody mine were the first in this state since the middle of January. Overall, five coal miners have died during the course of employment in 2014, with three of the deaths taking place in West Virginia. One of the state’s elected representatives, Senator Joe Manchin, was quick to note that the nation as a whole needed to do a better job promoting mine safety.
Over the course of a period that ended this past August 31, the MSHA cited 250 violations that were “significant and substantial.” Between October 2012 and July 2013, MSHA inspectors noted nine violations that created major risks with mine roof and wall stability.
In 2012, Patriot Coal, which has a spotty safety record, acquired the Brody mine in December 2012. Patriot Coal insists that most of the safety violations occurred prior to its purchase, and that it has done everything possible to increase the mine’s safety. Even so, during last year alone, there were at least eight accidents characterized as roof accidents. The injuries from mine accidents have resulted in 1,800 lost work days.
The Wolfe Law Firm has been providing legal services for nearly 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm provides services in the areas of personal injury, criminal defense, bankruptcy, and mediation. If you are looking for an experienced West Virginia wrongful death attorney, contact us today.