By JULIA ROBERTS GOAD
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has signed comprehensive mine safety reforms into law.
“I’m proud of our state’s mine industry, I’m proud of our coal miners, and I’m proud we have passed this legislation,” Tomblin said. “Coal mining in West Virginia will be safer as a result our foresight and hard work.”
The legislation increases fines and penalties for those who give advance notice of an inspector’s presence at a mine or who willfully violate any safety standard that causes a fatality, among other safety improvements aimed toward preventing coal mine disaster injuries and fatalities.
The new law includes a five-year prison term for advance warning of mine inspections.
The investigation following the disaster at Upper Big Branch that killed 29 miners revealed supervisors were warned by radio alerts whenever inspectors entered the property.
Hughie Elbert Stover was security chief at UBB at the time of the explosion. He has been convicted of lying to investigators about warning mine personnel when inspectors entered mine property. He is appealing that conviction.
The new laws also require pre-employment and random drug testing.
Before House Bill 4351 was signed, there was no law on the books requiring people working at surface or underground coal mines to pass a drug screen.
Companies usually test employees and potential employees, screening out those who are found to have any of the nine substances in a standard test, among them amphetamines, cannabanoids, cocaine and opiates. But it is now required by law.
The legislation also strengthens rock dusting requirements and provides new methane standards and codifies an anonymous mine safety tip line.