What's Being Done to Prevent Mine Deaths?

ByABC News
May 20, 2006, 9:02 PM

HOLMES MILL, Ky., May 20, 2006 — -- It is a dark, dank and dangerous job -- and this weekend coal mining has claimed more lives.

Five Kentucky miners are dead in an explosion more than a half mile below the earth in the mountains of Harlan County. Only one miner made it out of Darby Mine Number 1 alive.

Already in 2006, 31 miners have died, nine more than all of last year -- in part because more coal is being mined. That means less-experienced miners working more hours, critics say.

"Here we go again," said Kenny Johnson, chaplain of the United Mine Workers of America union. "It's just one coal mine tragedy after another. And there seems to be a lot of people talking about it. But the changes they're making is just not getting to the root, the heart of the matter."

There are two bills before Congress that would increase the amount of emergency oxygen miners have underground, require rescue teams are no more than an hour away from every mine in the country, and dramatically increase fines for mine companies that break the rules.

But Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who co-sponsored one of those bills, thinks Congress has been too slow in fixing a crisis, now four months after 12 miners died at West Virginia's Sago Mine.

"When Janet Jackson had her wardrobe [malfunction], it took Congress 40 days to change the law," Miller said. "It's now over 120 days, and Congress hasn't done a damn thing about securing a safer workplace for these miners and for these families."

Davitt McAteer, who is investigating the Sago Mine disaster, said action is needed.

"I think we need to step up," he said, "both from the standpoint of enforcement, but also from the standpoint of awareness of the miners themselves -- that actions need to be taken to prevent accidents from occurring."

The six men in Darby Mine Number 1 were on a maintenance crew, working overnight to prepare equipment for the day shift. Around 1 a.m. this morning, there was an explosion.