The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

March 28, 2013

Rockefeller wants more protection for miners who report safety violations

ATHENS — U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called for more protection for miners who report safety violations as well as incorporating new technology into mine safety efforts during a forum on mine safety at Concord University Wednesday.

Coal industry leaders, union representatives, and the widow of a miner killed in the Upper Big Branch mining disaster met to discuss new federal mine safety legislation Rockefeller is drafting.

Rockefeller said the industry needs to devote more focus needs incorporating and developing mine safety technology. Rockefeller said new technology is being developed to help detect where miners are below ground, which he said would have been helpful during the Sago Mine disaster in 2006.

“I want the coal industry to look to the future in terms of natural gas, safety and technology,” he said. “People are doing very interesting things with new technology. We didn’t think there could ever be an ability to be above ground and look through the rock and dirt to track miners.”

Melissa Clark is the widow of miner Robert E. Clark, who was killed in the UBB disaster, and said she wants mine safety legislation to address discrimination towards miners who report safety issues.

“As far as mine safety goes, anything that is done is an improvement and will save more lives,” Clark said. “We need to help protect workers from discrimination if they report safety concerns or unsafe conditions. Maybe that would have made a difference for my husband.”

Rockefeller said he agrees with providing increased protection for those who report safety violations.

“One of the most important things is protection for whistle-blowers,” Rockefeller said. “Officials with mines or unions have responsibilities when it comes to safety. The Federal Mines Act says coal companies with the help of miners are responsible for safety. It doesn’t even mention MSHA.”

Mike Sinozich, director of compliance and safety at Consol Energy, Inc., said coal companies need to make workers feel comfortable about reporting safety violations or potential safety issues.

“We call that empowering the employee and we want to empower everyone from the CEO down to the hourly worker to take action on their own if they feel it is important for safety,” Sinozich said. “The issue is some people don’t want to be empowered. Some want to do it the way they have always done it. That is the difference we are seeing between younger and older miners. Oddly enough, the older miners are hung up on their bad habits. There is a difference in how younger and older miners communicate safety issues.”

Dennis O’Dell, administrator of occupational health and safety with the United Mine Workers of America, said he feels a lot of miners still fear they will be discriminated against for reporting potential safety issues.

“There is a culture where miners are still afraid to go to work, which shouldn’t be the case in this day and age,” O’Dell said. “That is wrong. We have laws in place to protect against discrimination, but there is still fear and intimidation. I hate that this is still the case. In some aspects, we are in a new century and in some ways we are stuck in the 1920s. There has to be a culture change.”

Rockefeller said the fact that only 16 states in the country mine coal compounded with federal budget cuts means coal safety legislation is harder than ever to pass on the federal level.

“Coal in West Virginia has a bright future if we look to clean coal,” he said. “However, it is hard to get people to focus on that because of money. In Congress, we have moved into things called sequestration, financial crises and fiscal cliffs.”

Rockefeller said he did not want to introduce a new mine safety bill until it has all the provisions he feels it needs. In the meantime, Rockefeller said miners and mine officials must work together to address safety issues and incorporate new technology into safety.

“Sometimes we don’t use our imaginations enough in West Virginia,” he said. “We settle into what is rather than what could be because what could be means taking a risk. We want to make sure that mines keep mining and in order to do that we have to make mines safe. We need to develop a culture of safety that can co-exist with the culture of mining. You cannot whitewash that we have all done things inefficiently or deficiently, but we don’t have to blame each other.”

— Coil is a staff reporter for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph

1
Text Only
Latest News
  • New River Gorge eagle hit by train, vehicle dies

    A female bald eagle that nested in the New River Gorge has died from injuries suffered last month when she was hit by a train and later by a vehicle.

    April 17, 2014

  • Rock slide closes W.Va. 20 near Hinton

    A rock slide this morning has closed W.Va. 20 near Hinton between the Veterans Memorial Bridge and Bluestone Dam, according to the Summers County EOC.

    April 17, 2014

  • Video: Meat market

    The price of beef has everyone in a stew these days, and it doesn’t stop with the “what’s for dinner” protein. Prices of pork and chicken are on the rise, as well.

    April 17, 2014

  • Still alive, TWV’S 54th season is all ‘Hatfields and McCoys’

    Although the schedule is a bit different than originally planned, Theatre West Virginia Act II is officially alive, with 17 scheduled showings of “Hatfields and McCoys.”
    The curtain will rise for its 54th season on July 11, and Manager Scott Hill said these 17 shows will be produced with the same quality theater patrons have come to know and love over the years.

    April 17, 2014

  • jobfair Spring Job Fair: 400 job seekers meet 22 employers

    More than 400 people came looking for a new job Wednesday at The Register-Herald’s Spring Job Fair at the Tamarack Conference Center.
    This year there were 22 area employers in attendance which gave potential hires more options in many different fields.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Child care in state lacking in quality

    Child care programs of minimum or unrated quality are watching over about 93 percent of West Virginia children enrolled in them, a report released Wednesday said.

    April 17, 2014

  • Train derailment reported in Mercer County

    The derailment occurred in the Rock area of Mercer County, according to Norfolk Southern spokesman Robin Chapman.

    April 16, 2014

  • Report: High-quality child care lacking in state

    Child care programs of minimum or unrated quality are watching over about 93 percent of West Virginia children enrolled in them, a report released Wednesday said.

    April 16, 2014

  • Rahall raises $324k in WVa’s 3rd; Jenkins, $194k

    Democrat U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall raised almost $324,000 last quarter for his contested re-election bid, while GOP challenger Evan Jenkins banked about $193,500.

    April 16, 2014

  • State regional jails ban touching during visits

    Concerns about drug contraband have prompted a ban on regional jail inmates touching loved ones during supervised contact visits.

    April 16, 2014