West Virginia upping rescue team count

THE West Virginia Board of Coal Mine Safety and Health approved a proposal last week to add state-funded mine rescue teams to its safety force, a significant step for the state’s mining industry.
West Virginia upping rescue team count West Virginia upping rescue team count West Virginia upping rescue team count West Virginia upping rescue team count West Virginia upping rescue team count

Courtesy US Mine Rescue Association

Donna Schmidt

The regulations were passed in Charleston on May 5, the same week as the first public meetings regarding the Sago mine explosion were being held in the same city. New regulations for the teams’ staffing, equipment and training were also passed, according to local newspaper the State Journal.

The board, an independent group formed to review and update the state’s existing regulations and propose new ones, also takes on the task of investigating all mining accidents. Member Chuck Boggs, who works for the Public Service Commission, told the paper that “what we’ve passed is one of the most significant actions taken in the coal industry in history”

The rules have been submitted to the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training. A portion of those regulations include the establishment of two trained and prepared teams in its regional offices in Fairmont and Oak Hill, as well as a fully-equipped mine rescue truck for each, according to the paper.

West Virginia Coal Association senior vice president Chris Hamilton said the two teams were necessary to ensure someone was always at the ready.

“Given holidays (and other types of conflicts), these mine rescue team members are not always in a state of readiness to immediately respond to a situation. I think having more teams available is what’s important,” he said.

Compensation for the teams was also under discussion at the May 5 gathering, the paper reported, as the current codes, some 30 years old, dictate a $US32-per-month pay for their work. The board’s executive director, Kenny Dickens, suggested an update for the rule, which other members agreed with.

The teams should be compensated for the “stress, hard work and devotion” put into the job, said UMWA official and board member Rick Glover in the Journal, while Hamilton added he felt the new regulation should require pay “be commensurate with the challenges and hazards associated with the work”

Glover also suggested that a portion of West Virginia’s existing coal severance tax (5% of the coals’ sales price) be used to assist in the compensation and equipping of the teams, according to the paper. “With the kind of money coal severance tax produces, I would think – if we’re serious about this – we should fund the new technology with that money that is available. These miners deserve it.”