Monday, November 27, 2006

Today's Top Mine Safety Stories

Kentucky's Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training has issued its report on a fatality this May. (MSHA's report was out earlier.) The agencies found that the miner was ordered to drive the truck without proper training. Ralph Dunlop has an account in today's Courier-Journal:

The superintendent of an Eastern Kentucky surface coal mine violated federal and state laws when he knew that a company water truck had a defective engine brake but told an employee to drive the vehicle anyway, investigators have concluded.

A few hours later on May 23, the 10-wheel Mack truck raced out of control down a steep mountain road in Breathitt County and overturned at the bottom, crushing to death its driver, Steven Bryant...

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration and the state each issued four citations to Miller Brothers Coal in July, including one from MSHA accusing it of "high negligence" for knowing about the inoperative engine brake yet telling Bryant to drive the truck...

..."The gentleman who put him in (the truck) should be held responsible," his mother, Debbie Bryant, said in an interview. "He shouldn't have done what he done. I don't want to see another parent go through what we went through. He was our only child."

...Bryant had been employed at the Risner Branch mine for barely a month, and with Miller Brothers since January. He normally worked on the blasting crew, where he'd been trained to drive a truck with a different type of transmission. He was driving the water truck only because the regular operator had been assigned elsewhere and another employee begged off, saying he didn't know how.

And AP reporter Tim Huber reports that in West Virginia,the new state mine safety director is beginning an anti-drug effort by setting up a test program for his own staff:

...West Virginia's new mine safety chief is preparing to test his agency's staff for illegal drug use.

Ron Wooten doesn't suspect a drug problem at the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training. Rather, he considers testing a first step toward combatting what he believes is a widespread drug problem in the coal fields of the nation's second largest coal producer....

United Mine Workers of America spokesman Phil Smith said there's little evidence to support suspicions that drug use is more prevalent among miners than any other segment of society...

Chris Hamilton with the West Virginia Coal Association said the industry supports drug testing. A number of coal companies have drug testing policies for their employees...

"There is no reason to think that mining is any different or drug use is any less common than what's found in society," he said...

Testing at Miners' Health, Safety and Training would be confined to inspectors and other employees allowed to drive state vehicles, Wooten said. Everyone would be tested next month, followed by random tests determined by a lottery system.

"I can't be out there talking about drugs and getting rid of them if I'm not sure that our house is clean," Wooten said. "We're going to make sure of it."

Kentucky, with a recent new program, is the only state where the government is involved in drug-testing miners. (See post from a few days ago.)

MSHA had an anti-drug and anti-alcohol abuse outreach program in the 1980's. A committee from industry, labor and government including HHS set it up. A strong theme was that testing and punishment are not a sufficient answer; the lives of employees who may be hooked on drugs, or alcohol, and their employer's past investment in them, may be salvaged if they are given a tough choice -- lose your job, or commit to and stay with a meaningful recovery program.

The group at the time considered alcohol abuse at least as much of a safety problem in the mining industry as use of illegal drugs.


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