United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts said Oct. 8 that the federal government shutdown that began Oct. 1 may have something to do with a spate of recent coal mine fatalities.
“The hearts and prayers of every UMWA member are with the families of the three miners who have been killed on the job in the last week,” Roberts said. “Though none of them were members of our union, we stand ready to assist their families in any way we can.”
Roberts added: “One of those killed was a supervisor who was a former UMWA member working at the McElroy mine outside Moundsville, W. Va., where we represent the hourly workers. We are participating in the investigation into his death at that mine.”
McElroy is a CONSOL Energy (NYSE: CNX) mine equipped with two longwalls that is one of the largest deep coal mines in the U.S. and a major producer of high-sulfur coal out of the Pittsburgh seam.
“The circumstances surrounding each of these fatalities are different, and I do not want to draw immediate conclusions as to their causes based on incomplete evidence at this time,” Roberts said. “But it is extremely troubling that within a week after the federal government shutdown caused the normal system of mine safety inspection and enforcement to come to a halt, three miners are dead. The government’s watchdog isn’t watching. The shutdown means that there are fewer mine inspectors on the job. Those who are working are either keeping an eye on operators and mines with a history of mine safety and health problems, or responding to special situations. But no regular inspections are taking place, even though they are required by law.”
Roberts said that safety violations that would normally be caught and corrected as a result of those inspections are being missed. Even the smallest violations, when allowed to accumulate, can lead to dangerous conditions very quickly in a coal mine, he noted.
CONSOL Energy said in an Oct. 5 Facebook posting that employee Roger King, 62, a senior longwall maintenance coordinator at the McElroy mine, succumbed to injuries he sustained on Oct. 4 in an underground accident. McElroy operations had ceased temporarily and were to resume on Oct. 6. “CONSOL Energy is working closely with state and federal mine safety officials to determine the cause of the incident,” the company said. “Safety remains at the core of everything we do at CONSOL Energy.”
The two other single-fatality accidents that occurred in the last few days were at an Alliance Resource Partners LP (NASDAQ: ARLP) mine in Illinois and at the Bridger Coal mining operations in Wyoming of Idaho Power and PacifiCorp.