Safer coal mining operations in West Virginia have been a renewed priority for many lawmakers since the Upper Big Branch explosion two years ago. That includes House Speaker Rick Thompson, whose father long ago died in a coal mining roof fall accident.
A new coal mining safety bill sponsored by Speaker Thompson passed both chambers by narrow margins this session, and was signed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in March. A range of new measures will take effect in June, including:
- Establishment of an anonymous mining safety tip line
- Increases in fines and penalties for coal mine safety violations
- Stronger testing standards for rock dusting and methane
- Criminal penalties for providing advance notice of mine inspections
- Pre-employment drug testing and random follow-ups
One particularly important provision allows a trapped or fatally injured miner’s closest family member to designate a representative to attend briefings and hearings and convey critical information back to loved ones in the event of future mining disasters.
Legislative measures aimed at preventing the injuries and fatalities that result from mine disasters are always welcome. Coal mining accidents have affected generations of West Virginians, yet for every perceived improvement another collapse, explosion or machinery accident brings tragedy to a family, often including the loss of a breadwinner.
One of the benefits of stronger laws may only be realized when an injured miner or surviving family members need to prove coal company negligence in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. By holding coal companies to safety standards, mining accident lawyers fight back against the hard calculus that drives profits and leads to injuries and death.