The Charleston Gazetteâs Ken Ward Jr. reportsÂ that the State of West Virginia has added another worker’s name to the list of 2006 workplace fatality victims.Â Â In the Stateâs coal mining industry alone, 25 workers lost their lives last year.Â
The new addition toÂ West Virginiaâs count is Mr. Jerry Ray May, a delivery driver, who was killed on October 13 when his vehicle was involved in a collision on a haulage road at the Frasure Creek Mine No. 4 in Boone County, WV.Â Â State officials say the fatality occurred “clearly on a bonded, permitted area,” in other words, on mine property.Â They alsoÂ toldÂ the Gazette reporterÂ that they were aware of Mr. Mayâs death, but forgot to post the information on the agencyâs website.Â (Perhaps, but in Governor Manchinâs January 10, 2007 State of the State Address he mentionedÂ 24, not 25, mining-related deaths in West Virginia.)
Itâs sad to think we have such sloppy bookkeeping about workersâ lives and deaths.Â What’s worse thanÂ sloppy bookkeeping, however, is the responsible federal agency’sÂ decision NOTÂ toÂ count Mr. Mayâs death in the national total of mining-related fatalities.Â Â MSHA says “the victim was an employee of a nearby restaurant and was driving on the mine access road delivering food.”Â
As Ward points out however,Â MSHAâs 20-year old policy states:
âif a worker is killed on mine property, the death of that workerâ is counted as mining-related.
The policy defines aÂ worker as:
âemployees of the mine, salesman, delivery people, all construction workers employed in any construction capacity at the mine and others with business at the mine.â
If Mr. May was delivering gravel, or fuel, or new self-contained self-rescuers would MSHA haveÂ counted his death?Â The policy saysÂ “delivery people” are workers, and Mr. May was a delivery driver killed on mine property.Â MSHA’s explanation for not counting this mining-related fatality makes no sense.
In December 2006, after Steve Twedt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette exposedÂ inconsistencies in MSHA’s fatality tally,Â Assistant Secretary Richard SticklerÂ promised aÂ reviewÂ of agency practices.Â Now would be a good timeÂ for Mr. Stickler to share the results of his review.Â