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Union Warns the Government Shutdown is Jeopardizing the Safety of WV Coal Miners

The dangers of West Virginia’s mining industry are well documented. In recent years miners have paid the price of safety lapses by mining companies with their lives.

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Now United Mine Workers officials have raised a concern that the present government shutdown could impact the safety and health of the nation’s coal miners, and make working underground even more hazardous because of the withdrawal of Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors and employees.

The West Virginia Gazette reported union safety officers are stepping up their efforts at UMW-represented mines during the shutdown, but union spokesman Phil Smith said the mine workers are particularly worried about the shutdown’s potential effects at non-union operations.

“It’s never good when the full weight of the government’s watchdog agency can’t be brought to bear to protect miners, union or non-union,” he said in an email message.

According to Smith, UMW safety officials are stepping up their efforts at mines over the shutdown, pointing out safety problems and putting pressure on mine operators to correct them. He said if operators don’t act, coal miners have a legal right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions.

But Smith said the union is alarmed about the safety of miners in mines where there are no union representatives and federal inspections have been pulled out over the shutdown.

“We are concerned about conditions that may occur in nonunion mines where workers don’t have the benefit of trained, experienced worker safety committees with the authority to take immediate action to get a dangerous situation rectified,” Smith said in the Gazette report.

“If such a situation is identified in a nonunion mine and MSHA is somehow made aware of it, it is highly unlikely that any corrective action will occur until an inspector actually gets to the site, observes the violation and writes it up,” he said.

The report stated under the shutdown, MSHA was set to send home nearly 1,400 of its 2,355 employees nationwide.

The government agency is responsible for the enforcement of safety regulations at coal mines.  It also reviews safety plans that need federal approval before mining can take place.

MSHA chief Joe Main has indicated furloughs will be focused at the agency’s Arlington, Va., headquarters as part of an effort to keep as many mine inspectors working as possible.

You don’t need to be an experienced West Virginia personal injury attorney to know the dangers inherent in the state’s mining industry.

West Virginia traditionally leads the nation in terms of coal mining deaths. The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster of 2010, resulted in the deaths of 29 miners after an explosion inside the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal. It was the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in 40 years.

In 2006 a blast at the Sago Mine in Upshur County killed 12 miners. The MSHA had issued hundreds of health and safety violations against the mine owners.

If you or a loved one has been injured while working in a West Virginia coal mine or any other WV workplace, contacting an West Virginia work accident lawyers can help protect your rights and in some instances protect your job.  Feel free to call West Law Firm for a free consultation.  Our toll free number is 1-877-943-9378.
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