By Mannix Porterfield
Taking his cue from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s safety directive last week to West Virginia coal operators, Sen. Clark Barnes says it’s time for a “stand down” within the Division of Highways over road accidents that are costing taxpayers millions each year.
Last week, Tomblin issued an executive order to coal owners for a one-hour safety refresher, after a Raleigh County mine was the scene of a second fatal accident over a nine-day span.
Barnes told the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that some key personnel within the DOH need to appear before the panel to explain why so many accidents involving its workers and equipment are occurring across the state.
“It was brought to my attention that we had a number of accidents last year within the DOH,” Barnes said, holding up a thick sheaf of papers detailing some of the crashes, some with photographs to illustrate them.
One photo, actually from a wreck in 2006, depicted a vehicle’s top sheared off when a driver struck a bridge without a proper clearance, and a loader came off the trailer in the Moundsville area.
The woman driving the car escaped death and gave birth to a child while stranded in her wrecked car, Barnes said.
“It’s not uncommon,” he said of accidents that entail DOH equipment and civilian vehicles.
“Another picture is of someone who failed to make it under the bridge and blamed it on the equipment division for not telling them how high the equipment was or providing them a ruler to measure it with.”
Barnes told the committee he wants the heads of the equipment, training and safety divisions in the DOH to answer questions from the senators. That done, he might eventually want Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox to appear, the senator said.
“Let’s look at safety and training,” he said.
“A lot of accidents have to do with trailers where the load is secure but the trailer upsets with the load still chained to it. It starts swaying. The equipment divisions says the drivers are not trained to use the special trailer.”
Drivers aren’t properly instructed in using the lever for the trailer brake and cannot prevent the swaying, and once that occurs, the driver loses control and the vehicle jackknifes, he said.
“It’s costing us millions of dollars a year in equipment damage and replacement,” Barnes said.
“Maybe it’s time for us to do a ‘stand down’ at the DOH and take care of this issue. I’ve been informed that we have a training center but they’re not going out to the various counties to ensure the training.”
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