State law requires the mine safety board to review every mining death and, after its review, issue whatever rules "are necessary to prevent the recurrence of such fatality."
Also, state law requires the board to annually review the "major causes of coal mining injuries" and issue "rules as may be necessary to prevent the recurrence of such injuries." Further, the law says state government is required to "continuously update" safety rules so that the "paramount objective" of the rules is to protect miners.
However, the petition explains, the board has not written any rules to require proximity detection systems or otherwise prevent crushing and pinning injuries, "despite the persistent rate of injuries and fatalities involving miners being struck, pinned or otherwise crushed by mobile mining equipment."
Also, the petition states, the mine safety office has not taken several steps available to it, such as requiring mine operators to include proximity detection in their comprehensive mine safety plans.
On the federal level, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has been working on two rules to require proximity detection systems nationwide. One proposal, covering only continuous-mining machines, is stuck inside MSHA. The other, addressing all other mobile underground equipment, has been pending at the White House's Office of Management and Budget for more than two years.
In West Virginia, government mine safety officials, at one point, hoped to move to require proximity detection systems ahead of any federal mandate. The state's Mine Safety Technology Task Force began studying the issue and planned to have a draft regulation ready by January 2009.
Also, in September 2008, four top mine inspectors drafted a memo recommending specific language that would have given mine operators a year to install the equipment. The effort stalled, until the task force voted in September to resurrect its proposal after a Gazette-Mail story in August detailed the previous recommendations and noted that state government never moved forward.
At meetings in September, October, November and December, though, mine safety board members remained split 3-3 on moving forward on a labor proposal to require proximity devices. At the December meeting, board members sent the matter to a subcommittee -- scheduled to meet on Jan. 9 -- for still more discussion.
"Regulators have been talking about proximity detection for years, yet miners continue to be crushed and die needlessly," Mountain State Justice's Wagner said Friday. "It is well past time for the state to take action and honor its commitment to protect West Virginia coal miners and their families."
The petition notes that, in 2010, lawmakers revised the makeup of the mine safety board, eliminating the mine safety office director as a seventh member who could break tie votes between the labor and industry members. It argues that the change violates constitutional requirements for separation of powers and due process.
"After the restructuring, three coal-operator-designated members now block all new safety regulations," the petition states. "This means no safety initiative can be pursued. Delegating to coal operators the total control of state regulation of this dangerous industry effectively precludes safety enforcement."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.