Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Drugs and Miner Safety in Ky.

Kentucky not long ago established the first-ever, so far as I know, government-administered drug testing program for miners. Yesterday, Ralph Dunlop of the Courier-Journal had a story about the realities of administering that program.

Under a law that took effect July 12, miners who test positive for drugs, or who refuse to submit to a test, are reported to the state and lose their mining privileges unless they agree to enter an employee-assistance program. Otherwise, they remain suspended until they successfully appeal for reinstatement.

As of late last week, 123 miners -- most from Eastern Kentucky -- had been suspended for failed or refused tests. Of the 66 who had appealed their suspensions, 53 have had their certificates restored. Most miners reinstated so far tested positive for cocaine, marijuana or a narcotic painkiller not prescribed to them.

But state officials are permitting miners to return to work without first investigating to determine whether they have criminal records related to drugs or alcohol, or showed signs of substance abuse at previous jobs.....

Asked how confident she is that the state is not sending drug-impaired miners back to work, Jane Rice Williams, chairwoman of the Kentucky Mining Board, replied: "I have no idea. That's part of the problem."

Other members of the seven-member board, which is responsible for restoring miners' suspended certifications, also have expressed concern about discerning the truth from the limited information they receive about cases.

Williams has abstained from most board votes because, she said, she feels so uninformed about the drug cases.

When state officials told the board Thursday that the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet lacks the necessary time and money to fully investigate miners' backgrounds, and that miners might find burdensome the expense of submitting to a substance-abuse evaluation, board member Tim Miller, a union representative from Western Kentucky, replied: "If we can save one life, it's worth it."

Today, the paper followed up with an editorial:

...The widely applauded new drug testing program for coal miners sounds very much like a joke. Months after the initiative was approved by the General Assembly, the Kentucky Mining Board and the state Mine Safety Review Commission can't even seem to agree on who is supposed to be doing what......

Meanwhile, miners who have failed or refused their drug tests are being sent back to work, without the kind of state investigations that would show whether they have criminal records related to drug and/or alcohol use, or whether previous employers saw signs of substance abuse.

Once reinstated, miners are allowed to choose the time and place where they will be checked for drug use, as opposed to facing random tests. That virtually ensures they will show up clean for their examinations, no matter how drug-ridden their usual behavior.


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