By GOV. JOE MANCHIN

CHARLESTON -- I recently traveled to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's Mine Safety Academy in Beckley to visit with state and federal mine safety inspectors and rescue teams, and to look at the state's new mine rescue stations.

Our mobile rescue stations are stationed in strategic locations across the state's mining areas so that we can quickly respond in case of a major mine accident. They offer the latest in technology and should give our rescue teams the ability to get vital rescue equipment on scene more quickly with the resources they need.

It's hard to believe it has been nearly three years since the tragedies at Sago and Aracoma. God bless those we lost then, before and since. I want the people of West Virginia and the nation to know what we are doing to improve miners' health, safety and training. I want to assure our miners and their families that mine safety is still a top priority.

We continue to learn from the past, but it should not take a tragedy to protect our miners' lives. Today, we are better prepared to handle a mine emergency than we have ever been. Our goal remains zero fatalities. We have a responsibility to protect the lives of those who work to provide the energy we use. We all must do everything we can to make mining safer.

In mine safety, we've accomplished a lot since 2006. We created a mine emergency hotline for reporting mine accidents, in addition to establishing the mine rescue stations in our four regional offices. We have fully staffed mine rescue teams in each of our regional offices and we established the Mine Safety Technology Task Force.

More than 40,000 new SCSRs are now in place in our underground mines. About 245 emergency mine shelters are in place and more on the way – all in place by early-2009.

We continue our work on implementation and approval of communication and tracking systems. We have 10 more underground mine safety inspectors and four more safety instructors. We've increased our mine inspector salaries so we can retain qualified staff. We've required foremen and fire bosses to undergo additional training and we made it easier to shut down problem mines.

Our Legislature has been a true partner in making this possible. They passed regulations that protect our miners and provided the funding for these programs and equipment. We have work to do – we'll always have work to do if we want to reach our goal of zero fatalities. But we are setting the world standard for mine safety.

We don't look forward to the day we have to use our new equipment or to implement the skills our mine rescue teams have learned, but it is reassuring to know that it is here, and we have the skilled people who know how to use it.

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