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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Wednesday asked coal companies to halt production for an hour to review safety procedures following the state’s fourth mining fatality in two weeks and the sixth since November.
Tomblin signed an executive order urging mine operators to hold safety talks with employees over the next 24 hours, starting Wednesday afternoon. Inspectors and mine safety officials plan to visit about 500 mines, a move supported by industry.
“We need to make sure that our mines are as safe as they possibly can be,” said Tomblin, who was joined by legislative leaders, safety officials and industry representatives.
In April 2010, after an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 men, former Gov. Joe Manchin ordered a similar temporary stop in production. He also ordered one in 2006, after the deaths of 16 miners in the back-to-back explosions of International Coal Group’s Sago Mine and Massey’s Aracoma Coal Alma No. 1 mine.
“We just want to do everything we can to try to bring everyone’s attention and refocus and have them re-emphasize safe practices and safe conditions,” said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
The request comes after John Myles, 44, a shuttle car operator from Hilltop, was struck by a scoop Tuesday night and died of his injuries. The death at Pocahontas Coal Co.’s Affinity mine near Sophia was its second this month.
Federal records show that mine has been cited for safety violations 65 times since January, for everything from failure to maintain mine and escapeway maps to allowing combustible materials to accumulate.
State inspectors had been at the Affinity mine on Monday and Tuesday, before the fatal accident, giving safety talks, according to West Virginia mine safety director Eugene White. White said the mine had only recently reopened after a fatality earlier this month.
“Obviously, we’re very concerned, having a second fatality,” said Pocahontas Coal’s corporate counsel, Jennifer Guthrie. “As far as we know, the incidents are not related.”
Pocahontas Coal is cooperating with state and federal investigators but cannot comment further, she said. It a subsidiary of Tennessee-based United Coal Co., which is controlled by Ukraine-based Metinvest.