Industry Has Plan to Make West Virginia Mines Safer

The National Mining Association says it’s launching a program to get companies collaborating so mine operators with poor safety records can learn from those with good ones.

The goal is to eliminate deaths and cut injuries in half within five years. West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported the board was to vote on the details Friday.

Federal Department of Labor statistics show mining fatalities jumped 74 percent from 2009 to 2010.

After two decades of improvement, NMA President Hal Quinn said, the industry has reached a plateau and suffered some setbacks. Among them was the 2010 explosion that killed 29 men at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia.

The association has been developing a risk-assessment tool that it plans to roll out among members first, and eventually to the rest of the industry. Member companies will be expected to develop a unique plan then verify and report back on how it’s executed.

“What we want to drive is continued excellence by all companies,” Quinn said.

Even companies with outstanding safety records should still aim to reduce injury rates, he said.

Frank McAllister, president and chief executive of Stillwater Mining Co. in Billings, Mont., said industry needs self-improvement strategies, not more state and federal regulations.

“Regulations on safety don’t keep people safe,” he said. “What keeps people safe are companies and people themselves.”