CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coal operators need to make their priority eliminating all workplace deaths and injuries, the president of the United Mine Workers union and one major coal producer agreed Friday.
UMW President Cecil Roberts and Patriot Coal CEO Richard Whiting found common ground on the issue during a discussion in Charleston at Wheeling Jesuit University's fourth annual International Mining Health and Safety Symposium.
"We should have a whole year with zero fatalities," Roberts said.
Whiting added, "We're not only after zero fatalities. We're after zero incidents. We believe that all workplace incidents are preventable."
Roberts and Whiting made their remarks against the backdrop of this week's one-year anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, and the comments of some West Virginia political leaders that whether another such disaster ever occurs is in the hands of God.
On Thursday, symposium organizer and longtime mine safety advocate Davitt McAteer proposed a series of reforms based on his Upper Big Branch investigation, and said that mining deaths are not an unavoidable cost of producing coal.
"There are not pre-ordained numbers of miners who have to perish to produce the nation's energy," McAteer said. "The fate of these miners is not in the hands of God, but in the hands of the mining community."
Nationwide, 48 coal miners died on the job last year, the most in any year since 1992. In West Virginia, last year's 35 coal-mining deaths were the most since 1979.
During Friday's panel discussion, Whiting said he was not in the room the previous day when McAteer outlined his reform proposals and couldn't comment on them.
Whiting said he has mixed feelings about a proposed federal mine safety bill named for the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.