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West Virginia coal mine owners issued safety violations

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By The Associated Press
Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 9:21 p.m.
 

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — State inspectors have issued 45 violations at a West Virginia coal mine since two men died there this month, including one for negligently rigging the switch on a hoist with a piece of wood and a rusty bolt, according to mine-safety records.

Edward Finney of Bluefield, Va., died at Pocahontas Coal Co.'s Affinity Mine near Sophia on Feb. 7, when he was pinned under a hoist he'd been moving trash into. Hoists are used to move miners, equipment and supplies between the surface and the underground operation.

On Feb. 19, a state inspector found a newly installed switch at the bottom of the shaft housing the 30-ton service hoist had been improperly rigged. The inspector called it a serious violation indicating “an extremely high degree of negligence.”

Tennessee-based United Coal Co., which owns Pocahontas Coal, said Tuesday that it is cooperating fully with state and federal investigators.

“We take all violations seriously and are actively addressing their root causes. Our employees are our most valuable resource,” corporate counsel Jennifer Guthrie said. “We are committed to their safety.”

Guthrie said management met with Affinity employees last week for what she called “frank and mutually beneficial” discussions about safety.

“We will continue to maintain open lines of communication with our work force,” she said in an email. “Our first objective once the mine reopens will be to focus on task retraining. We will continue our ongoing efforts to implement a safety-first culture.”

A separate violation issued for a 19-person emergency hoist at Affinity found it lacked a hinged metal plate to ensure the safe loading and unloading of the cage. Inspectors also declared that a serious violation involving a high degree of negligence.

John Myles, a shuttle car operator from Hilltop, was crushed by a scoop at the Affinity Mine last week.

His death was the fourth in 14 days at West Virginia mines and prompted Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to call for a statewide time-out for safety. The one-hour talks at about 500 operations have been going on since and are expected to conclude soon.

Such stand-downs are not uncommon in West Virginia. In April 2010, after an explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 men, former Gov. Joe Manchin issued an executive order calling for a similar time-out. He also urged one in 2006, after another string of fatal incidents.

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