West Virginia mine inspectors have a lower starting salary than any of the eight states with similar safety programs.The pay, plus the long hours, make it difficult for the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training (OMHS&T) to attract and retain qualified inspectors.
That is one of the findings from a study of OMHS&T as required under a mine safety law passed last year following the Upper Big Branch disaster where 29 miners were killed.
Investigators determined that UBB had flagrant safety violations that contributed to a massive coal dust explosion.
The study, by an engineer contracted by OMHS&T, determined that the differential between pay for West Virginia inspectors and federal inspectors and the coal industry is “a leading cause of turnover and the leading challenge in recruiting qualified state mine inspectors.”
West Virginia currently has 94 inspectors who are responsible for 271 underground and 217 surface mines with over 2,700 mining and contracting companies.
Still, Eugene White, Director of OMHS&T, says his office is working long and hard to keep mines safe after the 2010 disaster.
“As a result of UBB… we do have more than one inspector assigned to the larger coal mines in the state,” White told a Joint Committee on Government and Finance at the State Capitol Tuesday.
Mine sites are also inspected by those from the office of Federal Mine Health and Safety. White says his office does not have as many inspectors as the federal government. As a result, his team has to work longer and harder.
“You do this job because you want to,” White said. “You do it because you care about the coal miners in this state.”
A survey of the mine inspectors found that more than half (56 percent) are extremely satisfied with their job. However, the higher pay at the federal level and in the private sector tends to lure away the inspectors.
“The problem is it’s hard for us to retain them,” White said. “Once the coal market picks up, we lose those individuals back to the mines where they were working.”