In the second instance of drug use at Kentucky coal mines in recent
months, state regulators have cited a Harlan County mine after
inspectors conducting a surprise underground search last month found a
marijuana joint belonging to a miner.

Inspectors also cited B&D Mining, LLC, operating a mine in Liggett,
after a cigarette was found under another miner's foot, according to
documents on file with the Kentucky Mine Safety Review Commission and
obtained under a Kentucky Open Records Act request by The

The miner with marijuana was fired by the mining company, along with a
shift superintendent, according to the Kentucky Department of Mines
and Minerals. Company officials declined to comment on the citations
or any aspect of the cases.

Under a settlement with the state mine safety agency the mining
certificate of James Brewer, of Evarts, Ky., who admitted having the
marijuana, was suspended for 30 days and then his certificate was
placed on probation for 18 months. The certificate of the other miner
with the cigarette, Doyle Gray, of Dewitt, Ky., was placed on
probation for a year.

State law prohibits people from being in mines while under the
influence of alcohol or drugs. The law also bars smoking articles from
underground mines. Smoking can ignite gases or fine coal dust, causing
an explosion.

State inspectors have no authority to drug-test miners. Neither does
the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The discoveries at B&D Mining on Sept. 13 follow an earlier state
investigation of a fatal June 13 explosion at Cody Mining Co. in
McDowell, in Floyd County. At the Cody mine inspectors found a plastic
bag containing 0.3 grams of marijuana. In that accident, Paul Blair,
21, of Paintsville, was killed, and a coworker, Robert Ratliff Jr.,
28, also of Paintsville, was seriously injured. Another employee at
that mine later told investigators he saw two miners using drugs on
the job.

MSHA is also investigating the Cody accident and has not yet released
its findings.

Officials with the state mine safety agency did not return several
telephone calls seeking comment on the citations against B&D. In the
past, the agency has declined to make statements beyond what is in the
official complaints.

EVIDENCE OF marijuana use in coal mines reflects the broader drug
problems of Eastern Kentucky, including prescription drug abuse, said
Rep. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, a former miner who is now an attorney. "It
knows no boundaries as far as whom it affects," she said of the
region's drug troubles.

State mine inspectors were tipped off by an anonymous complaint on
Sept. 8, alleging drug use at B&D Mining's No. 4 mine, according to
documents filed with the mine safety commission.

Five days later, a Saturday, six state mine inspectors showed up
unannounced during the afternoon shift.

One inspector seized control of the phones at the mine so those
underground couldn't be informed that inspectors were going in, the
state documents said.

Once underground, the state inspectors instructed the mine foremen to
search the miners. The inspectors searched the working areas for
cigarettes, lighters and drugs.

IN ONE AREA, inspectors found a plastic bag containing half of a joint
of marijuana, three cigarettes and a lighter. Brewer, according to the
state mine safety agency, "admitted that the smoking articles and the
marijuana belonged to him."

At a subsequent deposition of Brewer taken by the state, the miner
"admitted that he took the cigarettes and marijuana underground with
him on September 13th with the intention of smoking them during his
work shift," the state mine safety agency complaint said. Brewer could
not be reached for comment.

In another section of the mine, inspectors found a partially smoked
cigarette under miner Gray's foot. At his deposition, Gray "admitted
that he had been smoking the cigarette when KDMM inspectors arrived on
the section," the state complaint said.

"He also admitted that he had taken a plastic bag containing 3
cigarettes and a lighter underground with him that shift," the state
said. Inspectors did not find that bag because Gray had hidden it,
according to the state's complaint.

Gray declined to comment on the incident, but said he is still working
at B&D.

The state mine safety agency is analyzing whether state regulations
should be changed to give it drug-testing powers, how the agency would
conduct drug tests and who would pay for them.

The agency last month, in its report on the Cody Mining accident, had
said it intended to ask the General Assembly for drug-testing
authority, but later reversed itself. Agency officials said they
needed to do more homework before taking such a step.

Webb said she has asked state mine regulators to keep her informed of
their deliberations on the drug-testing issue.

"As a former underground miner, I appreciate the seriousness of what's
happening, and as a resident of Eastern Kentucky and a lawyer who sees
a lot of substance abuse (cases) in her practice, it's an area of
concern for me," she said.

Webb said she worked "on and off" in mines in the 1980s and is a
former general counsel to a mining company. She holds two mining
degrees, including one in underground mine safety.

TAKING DRUGS in a coal mine is dangerous, the lawmaker

"When you are underground, or on the surface, too, you rely on the men
and women you work with to take you through the day," Webb said. "When
I worked (in the mines), it was more like a fraternity, a very close
family. ... You looked out for one another. It would be unfortunate to
be working beside somebody who was impaired."

She said giving state mine inspectors the power to conduct on-the-spot
drug tests has to strike the right balance between preserving
individual rights and allowing the state to act when it has probable
cause to believe a law is being violated.

Webb said there might be hearings on the issue before the state
legislature meets early next year.

"I'd like the opportunity to sit down and see where everybody is
coming from," she said.

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said giving state mine
inspectors drug-testing authority "is a good idea."

"We don't need people (using drugs) in a job that has some inherent
dangers anyway," he said.

Richards said prospects for legislation that would give drug-testing
power to the mine department would be difficult to predict, but he
believed "certainly it would have a good chance of passage; it
certainly would receive thorough debate."

BILL CAYLOR, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, which
represents coal mine operators, said the state should have the power
to drug-test miners.

"I think that would improve safety," he said.

The mines "don't have any more or less serious problem (with drugs)
than any other industry," Caylor said, but allowing state inspectors
to drug-test miners "is a very progressive stance if we are to get to
the next level of safety."

Many large coal operators test potential workers for drugs, and some
also conduct random drug testing, he said.

"We do not need miners working in potentially hazardous situations
when they are impaired with illegal substances and even with legal
substances," Caylor said.

The United Mine Workers of America, the miners' union, hasn't taken a
position on whether state inspectors should be able to conduct drug
tests, said spokesman Doug Gibson.

Pubdate: Mon, 13 Oct 2003
Source: Courier-Journal, The (KY)
Copyright: 2003 The Courier-Journal