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Blast kills man at West Virginia mine rife with safety violations

A Pineville, West Virginia, coal miner succumbed to the injuries he suffered in a blast in Wyoming County. He had worked there for a dozen years.

The 58-year-old man was a resident of Gilbert in Mingo County. The West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training reported that he and another miner were welding above the surface of the Road Fork #51 Mine owned by Spartan Mining Company on Friday, July 29.

In its statement about the fatal blast, the Mine Safety and Health Administration stated that the two men were repairing welds "on a dewatering pump located . . . near a shaft. The[y] . . . were welding threaded blocks . . . used to fasten guarding for the shaft." The supervisor's co-worker reported hearing a loud roar and took cover; the supervisor took a direct hit from the blue flame that shot up from the mine shaft.

Although he had both second-degree and third-degree burns, he survived the initial blast and was taken to a nearby hospital. He passed away on Aug. 4. He was the third to die this year at a West Virginia mine, and the seventh in the nation.

The state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training has investigators on-site to establish the cause of the blast.

This particular coal mine had a notorious record of safety violations and accidents. Spartan is a subsidiary of one of the country's biggest producers of coal, Alpha Natural Resources. While other West Virginia mines were issuing pink slips, #51 doubled its production. Yet unemployment rates among local miners remained high and conditions stayed dangerous.

Five years ago, Alpha bought out the former mine's owner, Massey, in a deal worth over $7 billion. The parent company settled a case for $210 million with the Justice Department so they could get immunity from criminal liability over the 29 miners who died in an accident at the Upper Big Branch Mine also owned by Massey, and other accidents. Some of those others occurred at #51. Their immunity stemmed from agreements made to the current administration that Alpha would ensure that conditions would be safer now at Massey mines.

Multiple inspections did not bear that out, and some hazards were so egregious at #51 that it was immediately evacuated.

The survivors of those killed in mining disasters have the right to pursue compensation for their losses.

Source: Metro News, "Miner dies after Wyoming County mine accident," Aug. 05, 2016

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