Generations of people have worked in coal mines in West Virginia. Over the years, safety regulators have developed techniques to mitigate the threat of explosions caused by methane gas, coal dust or both. Mine operators and employees must exercise constant vigilance against these threats by following safety procedures to address methane and coal dust.
Methane gas develops naturally as part of the coal formation process. This gas reaches an explosive level when it accounts for 5 to 15 percent of the air. To ventilate the working areas, large exhaust fans are placed in mines. Gas monitors automatically switch off machines when methane levels reach 1 percent. This automatic shut off is meant to prevent gas ignitions from sparks generated by equipment cutting into rock. Water spray systems on cutting machines also contain hot sparks.
Coal dust, which is omnipresent in mines, can be highly combustible. To counteract the flammability of the coal dust, miners apply limestone powder. The limestone powder either prevents ignition or reduces the extent of an explosion. Any failures to maintain an even coating of dust could produce an explosion.
Although these efforts have reduced the high death toll that workers experienced in the past, fatal explosions remain a problem. In 2006, the fatality rate per 100,000 workers jumped from 44 to 81.3. By 2010, the rate rose again from 23.5 to 80.4 per 100,000 workers.
When a mining accident injures a worker, coal mine operators might try to avoid responsibility by denying violations of safety rules. Because an injured worker will need compensation to pay for medical bills and lost income, an attorney knowledgeable about mining regulations could prepare a personal injury claim. With legal representation, a victim might gain information about legal rights without relying solely on information from an employer.