Working a weekend shift has been particularly dangerous for West Virginia coal miners this year. All seven coal-mining related fatalities in the State have occurred on weekend shifts. The latest victim was Mr. Charles Jason Keeney, 34, who died on Sunday while working underground at the Long Branch Energy’s Mine No. 23 in Boone County, WV. The miner was killed by a piece of falling coal or rock, according to the WV Office of Miners’ Health, Safety & Training (WVMHST)
The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward writes that the day after this last fatality, Mr. Ron Wooten, the director of WVMHS&T, sent a memo all coal mine drawing attention to the unusual trend in weekend fatalities.
“It is imperative that when weekend work is scheduled (production or non-production), proper supervisory and safety staffing is provided. Our inspectors cannot be present in all mines all the time, but industry industry personnel are. I am asking that special attention be directed toward the weekend work environment in an effort to assure that this trend is reversed.”
Ken Ward also reports that the Long Branch Energy firm operates four coal mines in Boone County, including a mine where UMWA-member, Mr. Edmund Vance, 46, was killed last year.
“MSHA investigators concluded that the mine operator had allowed loose material to accumulate and did not set wall and roof support timbers properly. Investigators reported that miners were injured in 11 similiar accidents over a four-year period.”
[MSHA’s report notes]: ‘The mine had operated with unusually hazardous rib conditions for a significant period of time. The mine operator exhibited a high degree of negligence by allowing miners to be exposed to the hazardous rib conditions over an extended period of time.”
For that fatality, MSHA assessed a monetary penalty of $100,000. Long Branch Energy appealed the fines and the case has not yet been resolved.
Long Branch Energy’s No. 23 mine, where the coal miner died on Sunday, is a mid-size coal mine. It produced about 326,000 short tons of coal in 2006 (compared, for example, to CONSOL’s Enlow Fork (PA), McElroy (WV) and Bailey (PA) mines which each produced 10 million short tons last year–the highest producing underground coal mines.) Both MSHA and WV will conduct investigations of the incident which took Mr. Kenney’s life.