Drug testing necessary: Tomblin

WEST Virginia governor Earl Ray Tomblin took to the airwaves Wednesday to defend his plan for mandatory drug testing of coal miners.
Drug testing necessary: Tomblin Drug testing necessary: Tomblin Drug testing necessary: Tomblin Drug testing necessary: Tomblin Drug testing necessary: Tomblin

West Virginia governor Earl Ray Tomblin.

Donna Schmidt

In an interview with news outlet MetroNews Talkline Wednesday, Tomblin said he wants to do everything possible to ensure miner safety.

“The only thing that we're attempting to do is to make sure that, when you've got people working, especially underground in close quarters, that they really cannot be impaired," he said.

As the details of the bill are beginning to be examined at the state’s capitol in Charleston, he responded to criticism by United Mine Workers of America health and safety administrator Dennis O’Dell who said at an informational legislative meeting this week that the proposed law is not necessary.

Tomblin, however, cited standards implemented in recent years by Kentucky and Virginia. Since those programs went into effect, he told the West Virginia Coal Association’s symposium audience last week, the states’ agencies have suspended almost 2000 miner certificates.

“The vast majority of our miners are drug and alcohol free,” he told MetroNews Talkline.

“They're in there working every day and what we're wanting to do is to make sure that we do everything that we can to keep our miners safe."

The governor’s safety bill, known as SB448/HB4351, would carry a July 1 effective date if passed.

It would make drug testing mandatory at various steps during pre-employment and employment.

In addition to the drug test regulations, the proposal seeks to make pre-notification of the presence of inspectors on-site at a coal mine a felony crime, would enhance a mine ventilation plan approval process, improve rock dusting standards and require more self-contained self-rescuer training.

The bill, if it becomes law, would also extend the training period before a “red hat” apprentice miner can become a “black hat” experienced miner from 90 days to 120 days.

Tomblin, who also spoke about the proposal during last week’s WVCA symposium at the Charleston Civic Center, called for stricter rules for what has become a rampant drug problem in the state.

In his State of the State address, he said he expected the bill to be quickly passed.

“Substance abuse is an issue for the industry,” he told the group, adding that safety must be a priority in an environment like coal mining.

Tomblin said the problem was widespread in the state but that there were geographical concentrations for specific issues, including street drugs, such as heroin in the northern region and meth in the central area known as the Kanawha Valley.

In the southern counties, the state’s most coal-rich area, the drugs of choice are prescriptions such as oxycodone.

“To have somebody who is impaired there is just completely unacceptable,” he said.

“I see no sense in training people for jobs they can’t pass a drug test to do.”

The bill also strengthens the occasions for which operators can require drug testing and will mandate that operations report those who are discharged for a drug policy violation.

If passed, miners will also be given the responsibility of informing the state of a drug-related conviction.