W.Va. coal mine cited over 160 times in year before two fatal accidents this month

W.Va. coal mine cited over 160 times in year before two fatal accidents this month

Beckley : WV : USA | Feb 27, 2013 at 3:59 PM PST
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Coal is loaded onto a truck at a coal mine in West Virginia

A West Virginia coal mine where two miners were killed in separate accidents this month was cited over 60 times since January and over 100 times last year by federal mine inspectors for numerous safety violations, according to information obtained from the US Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Edward Finney of Bluefield, Va., was killed Feb.7 after he was pinned under a hoist he had been using to move trash. On Feb. 19, John Myles, 44 from Hilltop, W.Va. suffered fatal injuries when he was struck by a battery-powered scoop.

Information obtained from the MSHA online database show that the Affinity mine has repeatedly been cited for failing to maintain an adequate escape passage; failure to maintain fire suppression equipment in working order; not having the required fire and carbon monoxide detectors in the mine; not properly ventilating the mine and other serious safety violations.

MSHA records also show that there were 17 accidents at the mine from January 2012 through Feb. 6, none fatal, but several causing sufficient injuries that workers had to seek medical attention.

According to The Associated Press, State mine inspectors issued 45 citations for safety violations since the two fatal accidents, some of them the mine has been repeatedly cited for by federal inspectors. These violations include not having adequate ventilation in the mine; insufficient rock-dusting to prevent explosions; accumulations of loose coal and explosive coal dust; improperly grounded electrical equipment; and trash holes filled with combustible materials.

Affinity is jointly operated by Pocahontas Coal Co., and Affinity Coal Co., both owned by Tennessee-based United Coal Co., and is located near Beckley in southeastern W.Va.

On Feb. 19, United said in a press release, “the company is working with state and federal investigators to complete a thorough investigation of the incident. We are deeply saddened by and concerned about these events. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Mr. Myles during this difficult time."

Myles’ death was the latest in four fatalities in two weeks at W. Va. coal mines. On Feb. 12, Glen Clutter, 51, of Baxter, died from injuries he sustained in an accident while working on a loaded supply cart at the Loveridge Mine near Parkersburg. On Feb. 13, Brandon Townsend, 34, of Delbarton, was killed and a second worker injured when a hydraulic jack exploded at mine site near Charleston.

Four days after the latest fatality, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin asked coal companies to halt production for an hour to review safety procedures saying,“We need to make sure that our mines are as safe as they possibly can be.”

On Feb. 20, Assistant Secretary of Labor Joe Main issued a “Fatal Alert” urging coal miners and mine operators to observe safety precautions.

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Affinity Mine
Affinity Coal Mine, the site of two fatal accidents in two weeks. (Flickr)
StephenPope is based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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