After four West Virginia coal mining accidents resulted in four miners' deaths over the past two weeks, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin issued an executive order on Wednesday urging mine operators to halt production for an hour to review safety procedures with workers. Investigations are ongoing into the cause of the deaths and whether they could have been prevented by better safety audits or equipment monitoring.

After four West Virginia coal mining accidents resulted in four miners' deaths over the past two weeks, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin issued an executive order recently urging mine operators to halt production for an hour to review safety procedures with workers, reported The State Journal.

Tomblin also asked state mine safety officials to send all of their inspectors, supervisors and qualified personnel to inspect each of the state's approximately 500 underground and surface mines. Typically, mines are inspected quarterly.

"West Virginia's coal mining industry can thrive only if mining operations are conducted as safely as possible and in accordance with the mandatory health and safety laws and regulations aimed at preventing accidents," Tomblin said, according to State Journal. "I'm asking all coal companies and their employees to take this safety check seriously. We need to do everything we can to ensure all of our coal miners are safe."

Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said that the association will actively support the governor's efforts to increase awareness of safety practices. Raney also said that he doesn't believe that the deaths reflect a decrease in safety efforts.

"Think about the thousands each day that go home safely from their shift," Raney said in an interview with The State Journal. "We don't hear about them, you don't pay attention to them because there's no story there. …The industry mourns when any of these things happen and we pay very close attention when these kinds of incidents, even accidents, we try to learn from each unique situation and take the action necessary."

Mining accidents linked to safety violations, equipment problems
Investigations are ongoing into the cause of the deaths and whether they could have been prevented by better safety audits or more widespread use of equipment monitoring. Eugene White, director of the Office of Miners Safety Health and Training in West Virginia, told The State Journal that his organization is focused on bringing the mining community together to find out how the deaths occurred and to prevent future deaths.

The most recent death, at Pocahontas Coal Company's Affinity mine near the town of Sophia, was the second to occur at the mine in February, reported ManufacturingNet. Federal records indicate that the mine has already received 65 citations for safety violations this year. The mining company has been cited 10 times for failing to protect against roof falls, 10 times for problems with fire sensors and automatic warning devices, and eight times for problems with ventilation controls. They also had five equipment-related violations, three violations related to escapeways and two violations related to its roof-control plan.

Many of these problems could likely have been averted if mining equipment maintenance had been performed or proper safety guidelines had been followed.