February 10, 2021
CHARLESTON, WV — Just this year, the U.S. Department of Labor recorded three mining deaths.
While none of them are related to COVID-19, supporters of the COVID-19 Mine Workers Protection Act say it’s one more threat miners face below the ground.
The bill was recently re-introduced in congress and is led by West Virginia senator Joe Manchin.
It would require coal operators to issue an emergency temporary standard and provide the necessary PPE.
The United Mine Workers of America is backing the bill, writing: “Without an industry-wide, enforceable standard, miners are left to the whims of coal operators regarding protective measures that are employed at the mine to limit exposure to the virus.”
But not everyone in the coal industry thinks this bill is necessary.
“Mine operators all across our state have done everything humanly possible to prevent the spread of covid; everything from staggering shifts from the time they enter the mine, they’ve been spacing all of the miners, steam cleaning all of the pieces of equipment in between shifts,” said West Virginia Coal Association president Chris Hamilton.
Hamilton says last year the Mountain State had its lowest number of mining deaths at two, and they’re not aware of any COVID-19 cases contracted in West Virginia mines.
“The average miner, when you see them coming out of the mine or the working place, he almost looks like he’s wearing a space outfit — I mean very little skin is exposed,” he said.
But the UMWA says more than 500 miners have contracted the virus in the past 11 months, and the extent of infection at non-union mines is not known because the DOL does not keep track.
Written by: Larisa Casillas