CHARLESTON — Coal mines around the state were set to be idle for an hour today in response to an executive order by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.
In a press conference held Wednesday afternoon at the state capitol, the governor was joined by several state legislators along with representatives of the coal industry to announce the “stand-down” in the coalfields.
Tomblin and Eugene White, director of the Miners’ Office of Health Safety and Training, joined in urging all coal operators, supervisors, miners and other employees of the state’s coal industry to join in the safety stand-down. In fact, the governor emphasized in response to a question that the stand-down was an “order” not a “suggestion.”
The stand-down came within hours of the last coal-related fatality, according to the governor. Tomblin noted that a death the previous evening was the sixth fatal mining accident in West Virginia since November.
“West Virginia’s coal mining industry can thrive only if mining operations are conducted as safely as possible and in accordance with the mandatory health and safety laws and regulations aimed at preventing accidents,” Tomblin said. “I’m asking all coal companies and their employees to take this safety check seriously — we need to do everything we can to ensure all of our coal miners are safe.”
In response to another question, the governor stopped short of admitting that coal mining is inherently dangerous. Still, he said, “We all know that we must be on our A game to prevent injuries and fatalities. We are all doing everything we can to assure that safety is the first consideration.”
West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney attended the press conference along with a number of coalfield county legislators. Coal Association lobbyist Chris Hamilton spoke regarding the association’s support of the safety check.
Asked by a reporter about earlier comments that the OMHST lacked sufficient numbers of safety inspectors, Tomblin said his office would review that situation.
White added, “We will immediately begin sending inspectors and supervisors into the field to assist in both our underground and surface mines to make sure all safety guidelines are being met.”