Whitesburg KY

Opponents say bill would weaken mine safety law

Several Kentucky citizens and labor groups are asking Kentucky lawmakers to defeat a proposal to weaken a key mine safety law.

House Bill 119 would reduce the number of emergency medical technicians (EMTs, also known as mine emergency technicians or METs) required at smaller mines. Currently the law requires that two EMTs be available at all times when miners are working.

But HB 119 would reduce that to just one miner if the shift is less than 18 miners.

“We worked so hard to get new laws to protect the miners and now the politicians want to start taking them away when they think the people aren’t paying attention,” said Carl Shoupe, a disabled coal miner and member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

He expressed surprise and disappointment that the attempt to weaken this law is coming from eastern Kentucky legislators. HB 119 is cosponsored by Reps. Keith Hall of Pike County, Ancel Smith who represents Knott, Magoffin and part of Letcher county, and Ted Edmonds who represents Breathitt, Estill and Lee counties.

“These politicians say how much they love the coal miner but they turn right around and try to help the company make another dollar at the expense of the miner,” said Shoupe of Cumberland.

The required number of EMTs at each mine was just increased by the General Assembly through the passage of Kentucky’s landmark mine safety law in 2007. That legislation was in direct response to and designed to prevent situations like the accident that claimed the life of David “Bud” Morris at H & D Mining in Cumberland (Harlan County), where the only EMT on the shift failed to treat Morris’s life-threatening injuries. Had there been another EMT on site, Morris likely would not have bled to death.

According to the federal accident investigation report, both the ambulance service medic and the emergency room doctor who treated Morris stated that the results would have been different had Morris been properly treated by the EMT at the mine.

On Monday, a letter was delivered to all members of the Kentucky House asking them to vote against HB 119. That letter came from the United Mine Workers of America, the Appalachian Citizens Law Center, the Kentucky AFL-CIO and Morris’s widow, Stella Morris.

“The financial impact of maintaining the current number of METs is small, especially in light of the lifesaving services which they provide,” the letter stated. “Now is not the time to cut back on safety measures that were so recently enacted. Saving a few dollars for a coal mine operator is not worth risking a miner’s life.”

The Kentucky House could vote on HB 119 this week. The legislation previously passed the House Natural Resources Committee without discussion or dissent even though Reps. Fritz Steele, Tim Couch, and Hubert Collins are on the committee, all of whom represent coal mining districts.

“There ought to be more EMTs than less. You never know the situation when someone is going to get hurt,” said Elmer Lloyd of Cumberland, also a member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth. “Instead of cutting back on EMTs, everyone in the mines ought be qualified for the training.”

MET training is provided free by the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing at all six district office locations in the state.

Lloyd said when he worked at the Scotia mine the miners’ contract required an ambulance standing outside and two EMTs on site. But that was when miners were represented by the UMWA.

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