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Editorial: Governor issues important reminder about mine safety

Feb. 23, 2013 @ 12:30 AM

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's call on Wednesday for a temporary stand-down in coal mining operations in West Virginia was a much-needed breather for the industry and those who work in it to refocus on what's most important: safety.

After the state's fourth mining fatality in two weeks occurred on Tuesday night, Tomblin signed an executive order urging mine operators to halt production for an hour to review safety procedures and to conduct safety talks with employees during a 24-hour period that began Wednesday afternoon.

His move was a justifiable "time out" considering the alarming number of deaths in separate incidents in such a short time. In announcing the stand-down, Tomblin was joined by coal industry representatives, union leaders and officials with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

MSHA, for its part, planned to have inspectors, supervisors and managers travel the state starting Thursday to talk with operators and miners about what its director, Joe Main, called an "alarming trend." In addition to the most recent four deaths, two others had occurred in the state since November. MSHA also plans to issue a written alert explaining what happened in all six deaths plus best practices for preventing re-occurrences.

Tomblin's predecessor as governor, Joe Manchin, twice ordered similar stand-downs -- In April 2010 after an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 men and in 2006 after the deaths of 16 miners in back-to-back explosions at the Sago and Aracoma Coal Alma No. 1 mines. No single recent incident has taken multiple lives, but the fact that so many deadly incidents happened in such short time is just as troubling.

We hope mine operators, miners and regulatory agencies respond aggressively to Tomblin's call to put safety first.

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