WV Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training

2006 Mine Accident and Safety FAQ
Last revised:  03/12/12 12:02 PM

What does the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training do?

The West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training (MHST) supervises the enforcement of the state’s mining laws and rules and helps to train and certify mine employees.

The agency’s goal is to protect the safety and health of people who work in or with the mines in West Virginia. In addition, the agency protects and preserves mining property and property used in mining activities.

 MHST enforces the state's mining laws and administrative rules through mine inspections and investigative activities. Our professional inspectors conduct random mine inspections and issue citations where operators have not met state requirements.

The office also conducts timely and functional training activities on all segments of the mining industry.

MHST duties include regular inspections of all mine sites – surface and underground -- and certification and training of mine employees. The miners’ safety office also investigates all mining accidents and maintains health and safety statistics related to mining.

The office has 110 employees.

When will the new mining safety rules proposed by Gov. Manchin and passed by the state Legislature take effect?

The West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training is working directly with the Governor’s Office and the Legislature to determine the specifics of the new mining laws, which were unanimously passed on Jan. 23, 2006 and signed into law on Jan. 26, 2006.

The new law, which is summarized just below, is set to become effective by March 1, 2006. Our office is working with mine operators and safety equipment suppliers to determine the best way to implement the new rules.

Senate Bill 247 will make underground mining safer by requiring rapid response to mine accidents, electronic tracking equipment on miners working underground, and additional portable air stations/supplies in underground mines.

On Feb. 1, 2006, Gov. Manchin announced that Huntington attorney Menis E. Ketchum has agreed to serve as a volunteer legal advisor to the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training as it reviews and implements new mine safety regulations.

In his unpaid voluntary legal advisory role, Ketchum will assist MHST Director Doug Conaway and his staff with the review and implementation of new mining rules, as recommended by Senate Bill 247. He will also assist the MHST staff in the completion of a comprehensive review of West Virginia’s mine safety policies and regulations, including an analysis of how West Virginia’s efforts compare to those in other mining states and on the federal level.

Who is conducting the investigations of the Sago and Aracoma mine accidents?

The Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training is working with the federal Miners Safety and Health Administration to investigate the fatal accidents in Upshur and Logan counties.

We also are working with Davitt McAteer, Gov. Manchin’s special advisor on the mine accidents and mine safety. McAteer is former assistant secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration and a noted authority on mine safety.

Our office provides regular updates of investigation progress to Mr. McAteer, designated legislative officials and the West Virginia Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety.

Who are your safety inspectors? What do they do?

For a detailed job description of our safety personnel, please visit:

Inspectors Job Descriptions

How often does the state inspect its coal mines?

West Virginia underground mines are inspected four times a year by officials from the Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training. Both the Sago Mine and the Aracoma Mine had undergone all their quarterly inspections in 2005.

Surface mines are inspected at least twice each year.  

All inspections are done without notification to the mine operators.  

How does the West Virginia office differ from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration?

Both state and federal miners’ safety agencies have essentially the same goals, but the organizations work independently of each other.

The West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training is an agency within the State of West Virginia’s Department of Commerce. While our goals may replicate many of those of the federal Miners Safety and Health Administration, our agencies operate independently.

The federal Miners Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) enforces federal mining regulations, while our office enforces state regulations. And, while our offices work independently, we also cooperate in accident investigations, lending each agency’s expertise to the other to find out how to prevent future accidents.

We are conducting a joint investigation with MSHA into January’s Sago Mine accident in Upshur County and the Aracoma Mine accident in Logan County. We routinely work with MSHA in major accident investigations.

For more information about MSHA’s statutory functions, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s MSHA web site:


Is the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training working with MSHA on  mine accident investigations?

Yes, while our offices operate independently in everyday enforcement, we work jointly with MSHA on accident investigations, sharing expertise and working together to find out the causes of mining accidents in West Virginia.

Are state or federal coal mining regulations more stringent? Whose laws take precedence?

Mining regulations are extensive and detailed. Some of West Virginia’s regulations are more stringent than federal regulations, while some federal regulations may have tighter requirements.

Both sets of laws work in conjunction to make mining in West Virginia safer.

Neither agency’s regulations can supersede the other’s. Mine operators are required to meet state and federal regulations for safety.  

How many mining deaths were there in West Virginia last year?

In 2007, there were ten mining-related fatalities in West Virginia.

Why don’t coal miners carry more oxygen for emergencies?

The self rescue oxygen units all underground miners carry provide enough clean air for about one hour, depending on how they’re used. They are designed for a quick escape and not to sustain a person for long periods.

Larger oxygen canisters are cumbersome and would not be practical for miners to carry on their person. New legislation proposed by Gov. Manchin and passed by the West Virginia Legislature requires reserve oxygen and emergency supplies within underground mines.   


What caused the miscommunication about the miners’ deaths at Sago Mine on Jan. 4, 2006?

Sadly, misinformation about accident survivors was leaked from the mine rescue base to family members awaiting news at the Sago Baptist Church. We deeply regret the sorrow caused by poor communications.

The word from rescue teams deep inside the mine to the base operations near the entrance of the mine was relayed by walkie-talkie at least four times. Due to the underground atmosphere, radio waves from wireless devices travel limited distances so one rescuer must relay the information to another a short distance away, then that rescuer to another, until word reaches the base. That situation is complicated by the use of oxygen masks and rescue paraphernalia that can hamper listening and speaking acuity.

Although the words from the rescue team that first discovered the miners were, “11 items, one alive,” it apparently was misinterpreted by someone who overheard the transmission at the rescue base. That information was shared, unofficially, with someone at the church who, apparently, shared it with family members. From that point forward, the misinformation spread quickly.

Let us clarify, however, that at no time did any West Virginia mine safety officials announce that there was more than one survivor.

Gov. Joe Manchin later notified family members in the church the correct information that only one person had survived and was taken to the hospital. 

What killed the miners at the Sago Mine?

Twelve miners lost their lives at the Sago Mine due to the effects of the Jan. 2 explosion. The explosion immediately killed the fire boss, who was close to the actual site of the explosion. The other 11 miners died of carbon monoxide poisoning, which resulted from the fire caused by the explosion.

The youngest miner of the 12 who survived the explosion, but were trapped inside the mine, suffered serious carbon monoxide poisoning and is recovering at a rehabilitation center in West Virginia. He was hospitalized for about three weeks following the accident.

Why did it take so long for rescue teams to reach the Sago Mine?

While the holiday weekend may have contributed to some delay in gathering rescue teams, the reason for the seeming delay in entering the mine was due to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide present inside Sago Mine.

West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training officials were actually onsite within 15 minutes of learning about the accident on the morning of Jan. 2. MSHA officials arrived by 10:30 a.m.

Two rescue teams were at the site and fully prepared to enter the mine by noon, but the carbon monoxide levels were exceptionally high, and elevated methane levels were detected. 

Did lightning cause the Jan. 2, 2006, explosion at Sago Mine?

At this stage of the investigation, we do not know.

This is a theory that some weather observers have forwarded. It is one of many possible causes the state and federal agencies are investigating.

Were there natural gas wells near the Sago Mine?

Yes. In West Virginia, natural gas wells are common throughout the state and even near many underground coal mines. The wells in the area of the Sago Mine were mapped and the mine operator had received proper permits for mining near the wells.  

Was the material used to seal off the closed section of the Sago Mine safe for that type of use?

The Omega Blocks used for the closed “2nd Left Mains” section of the Sago Mine are commonly used for mine seals and are approved for such use by the Miners Safety and Health Administration.

Omega Blocks are a lightweight material used in place of traditional solid cinderblocks or poured concrete. The lighter weight of the Omega Blocks makes them easier to manipulate and move within a mine.

The Omega Block seal at the location of the Sago Mine explosion was 40 inches thick.

When was the Sago Mine last inspected by state officials?

The Sago Mine underwent a quarterly inspection by MHST inspectors in December 2005.

The state had completed all four of its required quarterly inspections of Sago Mine.

Did the MHST issue any citations to the Sago Mine?

The West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training issued 144 violations to Sago Mine in 2005. MHST did not issue any closure orders to the mine last year.

Of the 144 notices of violations issued by MHST to Sago Mine, almost all had been abated before the Jan. 2 explosion.

Who owns the Sago Mine?

The Sago Mine is now owned by the International Coal Group of Ashland, Ky., which finalized its purchase of the mine in November 2005.  At the time of the accident, Sago Mine’s permits were registered to Anker West Virginia Mining Co.

For more information about International Coal Group, visit http://www.intlcoal.com/.



Who owns the Aracoma mine?

The Aracoma Mine is owned by Massey Energy of Richmond, VA.

For more information about Massey Coal, visit http://www.masseycoal.com/.

Note on links outside of this website:  The State of West Virginia and the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training does not maintain these sites and is not responsible for their content or management. If you would like to report a problem, please call the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training at 304.558.1425.

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