AFTER the deaths of two more miners in separate accidents in Boone County Wednesday, Gov. Manchin took strong action. He asked all mines in the state to pause between shifts to review safety and fix problems.The “stand down” is voluntary, but coal industry representatives readily agreed in public to comply with the request. Four years ago, former U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration Chief Dave Lauriski ordered similar safety reviews nationwide after a rash of accidents, particularly an Alabama explosion that killed 13 miners.The governor’s comments at the announcement were a bit overblown. “We’re not going to produce another lump of coal until this is done,” he said. Industry officials assured everyone that coal production won’t be interrupted, but that each shift will start by reviewing safety concerns.This crackdown is worthwhile and may lead to improvements. It will help miners to stop and reacquaint themselves with safety procedures and requirements. In a job where miners say they sometimes feel pressured to ignore safety infractions, it can only help to have the governor issue a fresh invitation for every worker to report problems so they can be fixed.
Federal regulators also suggested that mines across the nation do the same thing and promised to send inspectors to West Virginia to help.Meanwhile, just hours before the most recent deaths, West Virginia’s delegation in Washington introduced legislation in both houses of Congress to force MSHA to toughen fines and better enforce existing standards that have been relaxed under the Bush administration.A dramatic one-day event or hurried inspections cannot take the place of regular and meticulous attention to enforcing safety rules. But in view of West Virginia’s tragedies of the last 30 days, any preventive action is welcome. We hope that Manchin’s crackdown and the bills in Congress make a lasting improvement in the lives and working conditions for miners.