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UMWA slams safety bactracking by W. Va. mine safety chief

date: 
July 16, 2007

UMWA slams safety backtracking by W. Va. mine safety chief
Recent testimony by Ron Wooten, Director of the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, regarding federal emergency standards for mine seals ignores critical safety issues and contradicts the stance of his own governor, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts said today.

“Not content to devote all of his time and attention to improving mine safety in West Virginia, Mr. Wooten has apparently taken on a second job as spokesman for the Interstate Mining Compact Commission, a little-known industry group that in its 37-year history has never before testified on mine safety,” Roberts said. “Purporting to speak for the governors of 24 states, he fails to accurately represent the position of even his own boss, Gov. Joe Manchin, who has repeatedly called for more stringent standards for sealing materials.”

Wooten made his comments July 10 before a Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regulatory panel meeting in Morgantown, W. Va. Addressing the federal agency’s recently issued emergency temporary standard on the sealing of abandoned areas, he raised a number of dubious and potentially dangerous statements.

For example, Wooten said risk assessments of existing seals should be based on their location and proximity to work areas, ignoring that their integrity affects the entire mine. He suggested that certain sections of a mine be designated as “high risk zones,” forgetting that miners often must pass such areas en route to the mine’s working face, as was the case at Sago. And, he urged MSHA to consider the practicality and reasonableness of seal design, including recognition of the types of materials that are readily available, warning that “to set standards that are out of touch with the reality of mining operations will only frustrate the ability of mine operators” to comply with the regulation.

“Ron Wooten seems more concerned with helping mine operators comply with the rules than with ensuring that the rules adequately protect the health and safety of miners, the people he’s supposed to defend,” said Roberts. “We certainly have had our differences with MSHA Administrator Richard Stickler on many policy issues, but on this we strongly agree: Mine seals need to be significantly strengthened. Maintaining the status quo will surely result in more preventable death and destruction. I would urge elected officials such as Gov. Manchin and the other 23 governors to pay closer attention to what is being said in their name.”

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