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Fallen miner's family wins new rule from safety board

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It took them more than four years, but the family of a coal miner killed on the job in July 2009 has succeeded in convincing a state board to write one of three safety reforms they've been pushing.

On Friday, the state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety filed with the Secretary of State's Office a new rule that requires mine contractors to arrange for emergency medical transportation and post signs so first responders can find their work locations.

The family of coal miner Mark Gray had lobbied for the rule after Gray was killed in a surface mining accident on July 28, 2009, at the Samples Mine in eastern Kanawha County.

Carol Confere, Gray's aunt, said she and Gray's mother plan to keep pushing the mine safety board to also write new rules to improve the safety of surface mine haul roads and toughen standards for construction of safety berms located around mine ponds and impoundments.

"More people need to get involved" to force the safety board to take stronger actions to reduce mining injuries and deaths, Confere said Friday. "This means everything in the world to us," she said.

Confere credited United Mine Workers members serving on the mine safety board for working with the family on the rules.

Gray, 27, was working for Hawkeye Contracting Company LLC, a contracting firm performing reclamation work at the Samples Mine. He was killed when his truck ran off the road and into a sediment pond.

In a report about the death, the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training concluded "alcohol intoxication" was to blame. But, pushed by Gray's family, the mine safety board decided to review documents and ask their own questions about Gray's death.

Later, a U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration report said the haul road where Gray died was muddy and rutted from recent rains.

Investigation of Gray's death also revealed that while mine operators are required to post signs for ambulance crews, independent contractors who sometimes work far from actual mining sites weren't covered by that rule.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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