Call to Order and Roll Call
The2nd meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Environment was held on Thursday, July 12, 2012, at 10:00 AM, at the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing in Pikeville, Kentucky. Senator Brandon Smith, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Brandon Smith, Co-Chair; Representative Jim Gooch Jr., Co-Chair; Senators Ray S. Jones II, Johnny Ray Turner, and Robin L. Webb; Representatives Hubert Collins, Tim Couch, Keith Hall, Reginald Meeks, John Short, Kevin Sinnette, Stewart III, and Jill York.
Legislative Guests: Representatives Kim King and John Will Stacy.
Guests: Mr. Freddie Lewis, Harold Sloane, and Frank Reed, Office of Mine Safety and Licensing; Rodney Scott, Pike County Jailer.
A quorum was established. After a motion and second, the minutes of June 7, 2012 were approved. A moment of silence was held for former Representative DeWayne Bunch who passed away on July 11, 2012.
Update from the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing on injuries and accidents in Kentucky mines
After introduction of local dignitaries and officials, Mr. Freddie Lewis, executive director of the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing (OMSL) gave a presentation on Kentucky’s mine safety record over the past five years. Mr. Lewis introduced Mr. Harold Sloane, division director of Inspections in OMSL and Mr. Frank Reed, director of Training and Analysis.
Mr. Lewis described the organization structure of OMSL stating there are 165 employees located in Frankfort and in the six district offices throughout Kentucky. There are four major divisions in OMSL: Safety Inspection and Licensing; Safety Analysis, Training and Certification; Accident Investigation; and Mine Rescue. Mr. Lewis described the various functions performed by those divisions beginning with mine rescue. There are 12 mine rescue teams in the state that provide mine rescue service to coal miners. Service on a mine rescue team is voluntary, and because mine rescue is mandatory under federal law, the structure of the mine rescue teams in Kentucky is vital to the continuance of the coal industry in the state.
OMSL’s Division of Safety Inspection and Licensing performs inspections of both the 171 underground and 229 surface coal mines in Kentucky. There are two surface and six underground inspections per year. Additionally, underground mines will use two of the six inspections for electrical works in the mine. In 2011, OMSL conducted 2,519 inspections of surface and underground coal mines in Kentucky.
The Division of Safety Analysis, Training and Certifications has recently established a new program to train and provide mine safety analysts to mines with new foremen or new mine crews. This effort is to blunt bad safety practices before the practices are instituted in workplace. OMSL is making an effort to be proactive and serve as an advocate the coal mining industry by encouraging better safety in mines rather than penalizing after an inspection. The idea is that creating partnerships with the industry will lead to an embrace of safe mine work conditions. In 2011 mine safety analysts conducted 24,286 job safety observations and corrected 2,375 unsafe acts. Many inspectors are also mine safety analysts, but mine safety analysts watch and offer corrections to working conduct whereas an inspector will not. Kentucky is the only state with a mine analysts program. The Division of Safety Analysis, Training and Certifications also trains, tests, and certifies for 18 different mine certifications such as foreman, jobbers, blasters. Kentucky OMSL trained and tested 38,648 miners and issued roughly 20,000 certifications to miners in 2011.
The Division of Accident Investigation has three accident investigators that are on call 24 hours a day in case of a serious mine accident or fatality occurs. Investigators now send emergency bulletins out after a serious accident or fatality that describes how that situation came about and could have been prevented. It is a way of extending the philosophy of proactive mine safety to the Division of Accident Investigation.
Mr. Lewis provided data on accidents and fatalities in Kentucky from 2007 to 2011 and further delineated the data for both surface and underground mines. There were a total of 20 serious accidents and 14 deaths at underground mines between 2007 and 2011 in Kentucky. Surface mines experienced six serious accidents and 14 deaths during that same period. In 2012, there have been two fatalities, and the last fatality that occurred is under investigation.
In response to a question about what proportion of the accidents are drug related, Mr. Lewis replied that he did not know the answer and deferred to Mr. Greg Goins, mine accident investigator. Mr. Goins explained that mine deaths will require a toxicology report. However, the results do not express whether drugs were a contributing factor in the death of the miner. Accident investigators do not give their opinion on the role of drugs in the mine accident unless called to testify in a court proceeding.
Mr. Lewis, in response to another question about the difference between serious accidents and fatalities, explained that serious accidents involve a miner that is injured but not killed. Examples of serious accidents include highwall failures, berm collapse, equipment related incidents like rollovers. There are many situations that constitute serious accidents.
In response to a question about suboxone treatment for opioid addictions could be considered an impairment situation to remove the miner from the work line, Mr. Lewis stated that the problem with suboxone, like methadone, is when the miner is abusing the substance rather than taking it at prescribed therapeutic levels. In response to a legislator commenting that coal companies can address these situations through company drug policies, Mr. Lewis concurred.
In response to a question about the funding for OMSL, Mr. Lewis expressed that funding is tight. Mine rescue is expensive and Kentucky needs to update all apparatuses used for mine rescue. When the equipment is not updated, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) can inspect Kentucky’s offices for compliance. If OMSL’s program is found out of compliance, then MSHA can shut Kentucky’s program down. A shutdown of Kentucky’s program would cause a cascade throughout the industry. Federal law requires travel to all mines, even abandoned mines. This is a costly feature of federal law.
In response to a question about how Kentucky markets the image of miners using thick coal seams, Mr. Lewis remarked that there are many thin coal seams in Kentucky, and those images can be used, too.
In response to a question about employees in each division of OMSL and the collection of fines from coal companies, Mr. Lewis replied there are three accident investigators, 35 mine analysts, and 88 mine inspectors. Mine penalties have a good collection record in Kentucky; however, the penalties being reported in the press recently are federal. Kentucky OMSL does not have the authority to collect fines and penalties for MSHA.
In response to a remark about the complexity of a mine inspection and the recklessness of increasing inspections without understanding the impact on OMSL and coal mine companies, Mr. Lewis remarked that there are inspectors on every shift. Complete inspections can take a month for some mines. OMSL is meeting the inspection requirements set in statute. With mine closures due to economic downturns, some of the pressure to stay up-to-date on inspections is lessened. It still costs the agency as much money to conduct inspections.
In response to a question about analysts being inspectors simultaneously, Mr. Lewis stated that analysts can inspect. But those duties are not being performed simultaneously. OMSL does not want inspectors punishing industry. Safety has to be sold as an idea to industry in order for industry to embrace good, safe practices.
Mr. Lewis then described the remaining activities of the day. The committee would view a rescue station in the OMSL, Pikeville District office, and then travel to Bob Amos Park to watch the mine safety competition.
After a motion and a second, the committee adjourned at 11:15 PM (EST).