Longtime inspector named Kentucky mine safety chief

FRANKFORT — A longtime inspector was appointed Thursday as executive director of the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing, the state agency charged with enforcing laws that keep coal miners safe.

Freddie Lewis previously worked for nine years in the agency's Pikeville regional office as a mine safety analyst, mine inspector, mine rescue team member and an instructor. He most recently served as manager of safety and training for Alliance Coal Co.

"I've got one focus," Lewis said Thursday. "That's to do the very best I can to see to it that each and every coal miner goes home to his family at the end of his shift."

Lewis comes with the endorsements of Tony Oppegard, a Lexington lawyer and one of the nation's best-known mine safety advocates, and Steve Earle, a regional vice president of the United Mine Workers of America.

"I hold Freddie in high regard," Oppegard said. "He was an excellent inspector who was very strong for safety. So I think he's a good choice. I think he'll work hard and have the miners' best interest at heart."

Earle said having the endorsements of mine safety advocates speaks well of Lewis.

"We wish him the best in this huge job," Earle said. "We're going to give him all the support we can."

Lewis replaces Johnny Greene, who retired in December.

"Mine safety is a top priority in this cabinet and I have every confidence that Freddie Lewis will help us focus on making sure our miners go to work each day with the knowledge that we value their health and welfare," Len Peters, the energy and environment secretary, said in a statement. "His background in mine safety will, I believe, ensure we accomplish that goal."

The Office of Mine Safety and Licensing, with 162 employees, is charged with providing safe working environments for coal miners, as well as training those miners to work safely.

The agency's inspectors enforce laws and regulations relating to workplace safety.

"We can never back down from making sure our miners are safe," said Natural Resources Commissioner Steve Hohmann.

"One of the biggest challenges Freddie faces is the continued diligence of his agency in implementing the drug testing program to keep the mines drug-free."