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Tomblin asks coal industry to focus on safety

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is asking West Virginia's coal operators to halt production for an hour to review safety laws and best practices following a series of four mining deaths over the last two weeks.

The governor is formally announcing the move this afternoon, following the Tuesday night death of a Raleigh County miner who was run over by a mining "scoop" vehicle.

Amy Goodwin, Tomblin's communications director, said the governor's executive order will ask mining operations to, within the next 24 hours, halt production for an hour to hold safety talks with employees.

"We're asking them to take the first hour of their shifts and talk about safety," said Eugene White, director of the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training.

In Tuesday night's incident, shuttle car operator John Myles, 44, of Hilltop, was killed at Pocahontas Coal's Affinity Mine near Sophia. It was the second fatal accident in two weeks at the operation, which is controlled by the Ukrainian holding company Metinvest.

The safety "stand down" has become a common action following strings of mining accidents in West Virginia since the Sago Mine Disaster in 2006 and the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster in 2010.

White said his agency is still considering other actions that could be taken in the wake of the latest run of mining deaths.

"We're just trying to figure it all out," White said Wednesday. "We're going to take a good, hard look at everything."

Tuesday night's fatality came just hours after House of Delegates members completed a hearing on mine safety issues, following a string of Gazette reports that exposed inaction by the Tomblin administration on methane monitoring, coal-dust controls and increased fines mandated by last year's mine safety legislation.

Since that legislation took effecting May 2012, 10 West Virginia coal miners have died on the job. Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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