Unfortunately, former miner and mine inspector Stanley Sturgill expresses sentiment from a small minority that advocates for the same left-wing policies that have done nothing but cripple Kentucky and our way of life.
Sturgill hides behind the fact he was a miner, but neglects to mention Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the liberal organization he represents. It baffles me that liberal organizations and those who work for them cannot see how Obama-era policies have done nothing to help the people they claim to advocate for, especially those in the coal industry.
More importantly, this small minority fails to recognize the fact that our state overwhelmingly voted to change our government at both the state and national level. Contrary to how Stanley misleads readers, House Bill 384 passed both the House and Senate with wide bipartisan support. Stanley also omits important details that contributed to its passage.
In 2013, the amount of funding for the Division of Mine Safety decreased by $4.5 million, in response to a decrease in severance-tax funds and shortfalls in county government budgets. Staffing decreased under a Democratic-controlled House and a Democratic governor.
The reduction of 55 percent of the division workforce made it impossible to meet the statutory mandate of six required inspections. It also caused the elimination of the Mine Safety Analyst program, an innovative safety observation program that targets accidents caused by human error and promotes safe work habits.
Concurrently, during this same period of time, the number of inspections performed by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration increased significantly, in complete duplication of the state inspection effort.
At the mine I currently work at, average MSHA inspections per day has increased from 1.43 in 2010 to 4.1 in 2016.
Because of the state budget reductions and lack of state resources, the number of required underground safety inspections by was reduced to four in each of the last two biennial budgets by the legislature.
The Division of Mine Safety believes the Mine Safety Analyst program to be vital in reducing accidents and fatalities, as the majority of fatalities in the past several years have been caused as much, or more, by human error as by operator violations.
HB 384, allows the commissioner of the Department for Natural Resources the discretion to replace up to three of the required underground safety inspections with mine-safety analysis visits in order to complement the mine-safety inspections and provide a service not provided by any other agency, including MSHA.
The number of required mine-monitoring visits remains at six, so there is no decreased presence by division employees. But, there is more direct communication with the coal miners to adjust behavior to help prevent accidents caused by human error. Behavioral issues, or human error, cause over 90 percent of underground mine injuries.
This is why the legislature took proactive steps to reform how the state views and manage mine safety. I have seen firsthand the difference behavior observations make when my mine implemented a behavior based safety approach nearly five years ago. Shouldn’t all Kentucky coal miners benefit from this system?
Duplicating the work done by federal inspectors is not putting the well-being of our miners first.
Stanley would suggest we should continue to duplicate work instead of modernizing and utilizing our resources in a way that moves the needle on mine safety in a positive direction. Shame on him.
Benson Waller of Morganfield is an underground coal miner.