Protecting miners should be a top priority for the state of West Virginia. The Mountain State had more coal mining deaths last year than any other state in the country. CNN also reported two miners died already this year, and there is a very real chance West Virginia will once again be the state with the highest number of miners killed.
Instead of strengthening regulations to protect miners and ensuring mines are as safe as they can be, state lawmakers are actually trying to roll back the current safety rules. West Virginia Senator Randy Smith wants to turn over regulation of coal mining to the federal government and take the state out of the process entirely. This proposal would be a problematic one under any circumstances. It threatens to be an especially big problem as the current administration has vowed to roll back federal safety regulations to put coal miners back to work.
Coal miners deserve good jobs and getting people back to work is a noble goal. However, a coal mining job is only a good job if it is safe. Without safety regulations to protect miners, many could be hurt, killed, or made very sick by their jobs. If an injury, illness or death occurs at a coal mine, the miner or his family should talk with an experienced workplace injury attorney to find out what options are available for obtaining compensation.
West Virginia State Senator Looks to Cut Coal Regulations
Senator Smith is trying to eliminate enforcement of state coal regulations. Smith has indicated he would prefer a roll back of federal regulations, but says this is not likely to happen. Since federal rules won't change, Smith wants to default to federal rules for fire protection, mine accident investigation, and mine ventilation. Unions argue this position of getting rid of state regulations would set mine safety back decades. Smith insists it is necessary.
He has introduced Senate Bill 582, which would fundamentally change the way in which coal mines are regulated. Under his proposed bill:
- State investigators would no longer conduct mine inspections. Instead of inspecting a mine four times per year as they are required to do under current laws, investigators would visit mines only once annually. The purpose of the visit would be to provide education on safety issues. No fines or citations would be issued if a violation was found at a mine. Instead, the investigator would issue a compliance assistance visit notification.
- State investigators would no longer establish mine safety rules. Their responsibilities would be limited to studying and adopting policies to improve miner health and safety.
- Several state boards and committees would be eliminated, including the Coal Mine Safety and Technical Review Committee, the West Virginia Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety, and the Board of Miner Training, Education, and Certification.
If these changes are implemented, the state of West Virginia will then be doing far less than they are now to ensure miners are protected from harm. Miners and their families will need to know their rights and should talk with an attorney for help after any illness, injury, or death related to working in the mine. Workers may be entitled to workers' compensation, but there may also be grounds to assert a claim of third-party liability.