CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Three U.S. coal miners have died in as many days, prompting the Obama administration on Monday to urge the industry to step up its safety compliance efforts, even as the Labor Department faced significant staffing cutbacks because of the ongoing federal government shutdown.
The first death came on Friday at an underground mine in West Virginia. It was followed by another Saturday at an underground mine in Illinois, and a third on Sunday at a surface mine in Wyoming.
"Three miners killed on three consecutive days is extremely troubling," Joe Main, assistant labor secretary for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, said in a prepared statement.
Main said the fact that the deaths occurred over a weekend "when there may be a greater expectation an MSHA inspector would not be present" is "a red flag."
The coal mining industry has not had three consecutive days of fatal accidents in more than 10 years, Main said. The last time was Dec. 26-28, 2002, and also included a weekend.
In the recent incidents, 62-year-old Roger R. King of Moundsville was killed Friday when he was hit in the head by part of a chain being used during a longwall machine move at CONSOL Energy's McElroy Mine in Marshall County.
On Saturday, a miner at Alliance Coal's Pattiki Mine in White County, Ill., was killed when an underground cart rolled over and he was pinned underneath it. Local media identified the miner as Robert Smith, 47, of Norris City, Ill.
And on Sunday, a third miner was killed when his bulldozer went over a 150-foot highwall at MidAmerican Energy's Bridger Mine in Sweetwater County, Wyo. SNL Financial News identified that miner as Chris Stassinos, who had worked at the operation for two years.
So far in 2013, 17 U.S. coal miners have been killed on the job, according to MSHA. West Virginia leads the nation with six of those deaths.
Bruce Watzman, a senior vice president for the National Mining Association, said his organization is concerned "anytime there is a loss of life at a mine." He noted that there were three deaths in a four-day period last month at stone-quarry operations in Missouri, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.