Sunday, January 15, 2006


More on unsafe mines

The Dispatch's Randy Ludlow is doing of good job of highlighting Ohio's own mining problems in the wake of the Sago disaster.

First, we want to point out that Ludlow confirms the story that we broke in posts here and here week, namely that Ohio's surface mines have serious safety problems - perhaps more serious than underground coalmines:
State and federal inspectors regularly visit both surface and underground coal mines with a goal of keeping miners safe, Stewart said.

Surface-mining operations for sand, gravel and limestone have proven more dangerous than underground coal mines since 2000, with seven workers killed aboveground, he said.
Unfortunately, Ludlow fails to pick up on the fact that inspectors have only been completing one-half of the inspections that are mandated for these mines, nor does he mention the legislation - S.B. 191 and H.B. 400 - that will make the situation in these mines even worse.

Ludlow, nevertheless, does an admirable job of highlighting several of the most problematic mines and the tension between unionized and non-union operations:
Federal inspectors cited Ohio Valley Coal last year for 494 safety violations and the company paid $147,431 in fines — nearly triple the combined amount of fines levied against Ohio’s nine other underground coal mines.

More than 100 of the violations — for failing to test for explosive methane gas, accumulations of dangerous coal dust, ventilation problems, unsupported roofs, unsafe equipment and others — were "significant and substantial."

To federal mine inspectors, "significant and substantial" means there’s a reasonable chance the hazard could harm miners.

Inspectors also issued 13 orders instructing miners to clear areas where an "imminent danger" was detected.

On Dec. 7, the mine was evacuated when a fire consumed 2,400 feet of a conveyor belt. No one was hurt.

Powhatan’s record last year was an improvement from years past. In 2002, the mine attracted 620 safety-violation citations and $277,006 in fines.

"Conditions at that mine are a concern," said Tim Baker, who toured Powhatan six months ago as deputy administrator of occupational safety and health with the United Mine Workers of America.

The Century Mine near Beallsville attracted 157 safety violations, $18,452 in fines and no withdrawal orders in 2004.

On paper, it would appear the nonunionized Century Mine is safer, but that’s misleading, said Dennis O’Dell, the UMW’s safety and health administrator.

Federal mine inspectors are not as aggressive in citing nonunion mines for violations, O’Dell said. At Powhatan, union safety-committee members can press inspectors to address violations while the union contract protects them from retaliation. Nonunion miners have no such protection and balk at raising safety concerns, he said.


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