Jones’ death points to troubling trend

Here in West Virginia, we know about coal mining. We understand there is risk in the job. We have become accustomed, sadly, to hearing of lives lost in the mines.

Still, as Gov. Jim Justice put it during the weekend, a mine fatality Friday was “especially heartbreaking.”

A local man, 51-year-old Owen Jones, was killed in an accident at the Pleasant Hill Mine near Mill Creek.

What prompted Justice’s comment is the fact that in 2006, Jones’ brother, Jesse, was among the 12 men killed in the Sago Mine disaster. Prior to that, the brothers had worked together in the mines for 17 years.

Twelve miners, three of them in West Virginia, have perished in accidents this year. That is up from the eight fatalities in 2016.

Fluctuations in mine fatality rates are not uncommon. Thankfully, the profession is much safer than it was a few decades ago.

Still, the upsurge since last year is troubling. Let us hope state and federal safety agencies are looking closely at the numbers, to determine whether they are an indication that something has made mining more dangerous. If so, immediate, decisive action needs to be taken.

Yes, those of us in coal country understand mining is, by its nature, impossible to make entirely safe. That does not make deaths such as Jones’ any less hard to take.

And as far as it being “especially heartbreaking,” that no doubt is true — to the wife, two children and five grandchildren he leaves behind


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