The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 41           October 30, 2006  
Bosses’ profit drive kills 40
coal miners in U.S. this year
(front page)
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama—Coal mine fatalities across the United States continue to mount this year. Forty coal miners have died on the job so far since January 1, the highest number in five years and nearly twice the 22 coal miners killed last year. Wilson Maxwell, a miner at the Oak Grove mine here, said the high death toll is the result of “the push by companies to produce at whatever the cost while coal prices are high.”

Joe Seay, a roof bolter at the D&R Coal No. 2 mine in Knox County, Kentucky, became the 39th miner killed this year when he was crushed October 6 by a six-foot piece of rock. He was working in an area of the mine where the coal seam was only 24 to 31 inches high, less than three feet. Miners work on their hands and knees in such mines. Seay was 56 years old and had more that 23 years of mining experience.

According to press reports, D&R Coal has been cited 14 times by Kentucky mine inspectors for various safety violations since 2005 and another 30 times by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

Jerry McKinney, a mine supervisor at the Jim Walters Resources No. 7 mine in Brookwood, Alabama, was the most recent fatality on October 11. McKinney was also killed by a roof fall while inspecting a portion of the mine that was no longer being actively worked. According to one Jim Walters miner, who spoke to the Militant on the condition of anonymity to avoid possible reprisal by the company, many of the miners there are upset about the supervisor’s death because it took the company almost 24 hours before it determined that McKinney was missing. Miners at No. 7 say a search for him was conducted only after his wife called the mine to inquire about McKinney on Thursday morning, October 12.

Dennis Hall, director of public relations for Jim Walters Resources, was quoted in the October 13 Tuscaloosa News as saying about McKinney’s death, “He was a supervisor so he worked different types of shifts. Normally I think he worked days, but we don’t know what shift he worked [Wednesday]. We’re trying to pin that down.”

The United Mine Workers union is participating in an investigation of McKinney’s death.

MSHA also identified the 38th miner killed this year after it reclassified the electrocution death of Richard Cox on May 4 at Consol’s Buchanan No. 1 mine in Virginia. Cox was 40 years old and was working on the surface for a contractor at the mine.

Another 23 miners in metal and other non-coal mines have been killed on the job this year, according to MSHA.  
Suicides at Sago Mine
Meanwhile, two former employees of the Sago coal mine in West Virginia committed suicide in August and September. Mine dispatcher William Chisolm and John Nelson Boni, a fireboss, shot themselves in separate incidents. Both worked January 2, the day of the explosion at the Sago Mine that killed 12 miners, and were at the center of the investigation around the disaster.

Boni had told federal inspectors he had detected low levels of methane, a gas emitted from coal that is explosive above a 5 percent concentration, in the area of the blast five days earlier. He reported this to a supervisor but nothing was done.

Boni had also told investigators he had signed a form certifying that he received safety training even though he had not attended the required safety class, according to the September 27 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He said Al Schoonover, the mine’s safety director, had asked him to sign the form. Bennett Hatfield, the president of the International Coal Group that owns the Sago Mine, said the incident was a “misunderstanding.”

As the dispatcher, Chisolm was responsible for monitoring carbon monoxide alarms. He had told investigators that such an alarm had sounded 20 minutes before the explosion and that he had instructed an electrician to check it out.

Clay Dennison is a coal miner in Alabama and member of United Mine Workers of America Local 2133. Tony Lane, a coal miner in the Pittsburgh area, also contributed to this article.
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