The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

June 19, 2013

New labor panel eyeing workplace health, safety

WHEELING — Tragedies in West Virginia’s coal industry understandably attract voluminous news coverage, but lawmakers say other work places are hit by their share of injuries and illness, prompting a new committee to take a look at this.

Known as the Committee on Labor and Work Safety Issues, the new panel was requested by Sen. Jack Yost, D-Brooke.

“We will be talking about obviously labor issues but more specifically, worker safety,” the committee’s co-chairman, Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, said.

“There have been a lot of discussions about mine safety but not a whole lot of discussion about every day work safety outside the coal industry, such as construction, or whatever it may be.”

Hall said he understands why so much media attention is accorded to accidents in mining, since often those are large in scope and entail huge numbers.

Yet, other workers are getting hurt, even killed, he pointed out.

“And the numbers are staggering, when you see them,” Hall said.

“Just in the last session, a number of workers were injured and killed, but you don’t hear much about it. We want to look at this in the committee.”

Interims are being held this week in Wheeling, since that was the site of West Virginia’s first capital, and today is the state’s 150th birthday.

“There are several issues we’re going to look at,” Hall said.

By that, he said lawmakers also want to focus on problems in the work place that have sickened workers.

“Chronic illnesses — it could be anything,” he said.

“We want to look at all the issues.”

In its organizational meeting Wednesday, the Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary agreed to divide its work into three basic categories — environmental issues, insurance, and miscellaneous topics.

Of immediate interest is a proposal to use water from coal mine wastes in hydraulic fracking of gas wells, rather than tap into streams.

“Unless there’s something I’m not aware of at this point, it sounds like a good idea to me,” Hall said.

Otherwise, he said, pumping water from free-running streams to satisfy the fracking process could be harmful.

“This could hurt them in the dry part of summer,” the senator said.

“You would have to worry about flow levels and killing the fish.”

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