The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. reports that the State of West Virginia has added another worker’s name to the list of 2006 workplace fatality victims.   In the State’s coal mining industry alone, 25 workers lost their lives last year. 

The new addition to West Virginia’s count is Mr. Jerry Ray May, a delivery driver, who was killed on October 13 when his vehicle was involved in a collision on a haulage road at the Frasure Creek Mine No. 4 in Boone County, WV.  State officials say the fatality occurred “clearly on a bonded, permitted area,” in other words, on mine property.  They also told the Gazette reporter that they were aware of Mr. May’s death, but forgot to post the information on the agency’s website.  (Perhaps, but in Governor Manchin’s January 10, 2007 State of the State Address he mentioned 24, not 25, mining-related deaths in West Virginia.)

It’s sad to think we have such sloppy bookkeeping about workers’ lives and deaths.  What’s worse than sloppy bookkeeping, however, is the responsible federal agency’s decision NOT to count Mr. May’s death in the national total of mining-related fatalities.  MSHA says “the victim was an employee of a nearby restaurant and was driving on the mine access road delivering food.” 

As Ward points out however, MSHA’s 20-year old policy states:

“if a worker is killed on mine property, the death of that worker” is counted as mining-related.

The policy defines a worker as:

“employees of the mine, salesman, delivery people, all construction workers employed in any construction capacity at the mine and others with business at the mine.”

If Mr. May was delivering gravel, or fuel, or new self-contained self-rescuers would MSHA have counted his death?  The policy says “delivery people” are workers, and Mr. May was a delivery driver killed on mine property.  MSHA’s explanation for not counting this mining-related fatality makes no sense.

In December 2006, after Steve Twedt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette exposed inconsistencies in MSHA’s fatality tally, Assistant Secretary Richard Stickler promised a review of agency practices.  Now would be a good time for Mr. Stickler to share the results of his review.