Wednesday, August 10, 2005

After Two Deaths, Kentucky Goes After ‘Retreat Mining'

Bad times in Kentucky mines.
Cadaver dogs helped locate the body of mine foreman Russell L. Cole, 39, of Partridge. He and Brandon Wilder, 23, were killed when a large section of mine roof collapsed without warning late Wednesday.

Wilder's body was recovered Thursday, but search teams were hindered by two more rock falls that injured two searchers during the search. Cole's body was recovered Sunday morning, according to a statement by the state Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet.

The two miners were part of a crew of about eight who were retreat mining - a process of removing coal pillars that support the roof. Workers spent much of Saturday bracing the mine shaft by installing roof supports.

Four Kentucky miners, including Cole and Wilder, have been killed during retreat mining in the past 13 months, and a state official said an engineering firm would be hired to study its dangers.
At one point last year, Kentucky Coal Association executive Bill Caylor observed that retreat mining accidents occur despite operators' best efforts. "These things are really flukes," according to the Louisville Courier Journal.

But after two deaths form retreat mining last summer, even Caylor decided something had to be done and former Assistant Labor Secretary Dave Lauriski announced that the Mine Safety and Health Administration would organize safety seminars in Kentucky and West Virginia on retreat mining.

After two more deaths this year, the state has decided the still more needs to be done, much to the Courier Journal’s approval:
Confronted again this summer with two retreat mining deaths, the state could have taken refuge in the notion that such operations are safe if they are "done right." Instead, Environmental and Public Protection Secretary LaJuana Wilcher said, "Four deaths are simply unacceptable." She decided , "It is time to re-examine retreat mining to ensure these operations are being conducted as safely as possible and determine if the human costs are too great a price to pay to extract a few more tons of coal."

Good for her. In the mine safety business, action saves lives.
Wilcher said the state would conduct a study that would look at issues such as Kentucky's unique geological features, regulatory programs in other states and the possible use of newer mining techniques. These would supplement the agency's on-site inspections of retreat mining operations.