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At the end of April we started to pay the first group of 7,000 claims. We are now at 30,000 claims paid. Those that did not need additional development, actually the working time on them, the elapsed time from the time we were able to move forward after the regulations were issued, was not very long. Your question is directed to what will be the processing time as we get into a more normal procedure.
I would say that our regular claims are handled in a little over 2 months on an average. I would think that in many places we could ultimately, when we stabilize the operation and our work load, handle many of these claims more rapidly than that.
Mr. SIEGEL. Then for me to sum up, what you have done in the initial months of this program is to go and process as fast as possible all the claims that you could process out of existing records without further investigation. Now you are getting down to the ones that are going to take a little more original work on your part.
Mr. Popick. You said "all." I would like to be clear that primarily they have been cases that we have been able to move along on the basis of existing records, although we are getting a growing number of those requiring special examination. But essentially that is the picture.
Mr. SIEGEL. That is all I have.
(Whereupon, at 1:15 p.m., the committee adjourned, subject to the call of the Chair.)
47-135 O -71 - 51
HEALTH AND SAFETY IN THE COAL MINES
MONDAY, AUGUST 17, 1970
Charleston, W. Va. The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, in the courtroom of the Federal Building, Charleston, W. Va., Senator Harrison A. Williams, Jr., chairman of the subcommittee, presiding.
Present: Senators Williams (presiding) and Randolph.
Senator Williams. We will now receive testimony on health and safety in the coal mines.
Our first witness on this matter is Mr. James Leeber.
STATEMENT OF JAMES LEEBER, PRESIDENT, DISTRICT 29, UNITED
MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA; ACCOMPANIED BY CHARLES H. BROWNING, SAFETY COORDINATOR OF DISTRICT 29
Mr. LEEBER. Mr. Chairman, Senator Randolph, first of all I want to express our appreciation for having an opportunity to appear before your committee. I would like to briefly, as much as possible, outline the activities of the United Mine Workers of America in the area of coal mine sa fety in the State of West Virginia in particular.
I have been associated with the organization as a member since 1933 and as a representative of the organization for the past 29 years. For the past 28 years I have also represented the organization in the capacity as State legislative representative.
Prior to my appointment as president of district 29, I served in the capacity also as safety director of district 29 and my duties in that area pertained to coal mine safety in general.
I want to say that in the early years after 1942, at which time I began my legislative duties on the legislative committee, the mineworkers in the State of West Virginia in session after session have proposed changes in the West Virginia mining law and safety. Apparently we did not generate sufficient support to get the coal mine sa fety laws of this State amended in order to keep up with the present technology and advancement of automation and mechanization of coal mines.
It has been our experience that even in the mechanization and automation of coal mines the manufacturers of equipment for this industry have secondarily taken safety very reluctantly. Their primary objective in manufacturing equipment for this industry was for the increase in productivity of coal.
I want to say one of the most stringent legislative battles that our organization has ever been confronted with was in the year 1951 at which time the question arose amending the West Virginia mining law in respect to the preshift examiner of a coal mine better known in coal mine language as the fire boss of a coal mine. The old law that existed prior to July 1, 1951, contained a provision whereby no one was authorized to make a preshift examination of a coal mine other than an authorized fire boss who was duly qualified and certified by the State of West Virginia.
That particular section of the law was contested by the coal operators of this state and the chief secured an attorney general's opinion which sustained him at that time the director of the department of mines who was referred to as chief. The mine law has been changed from chief of the department of mines to the director of the department of mines. They sustained the chief's interpretation of the law, the attorney general's office did, that no one but a duly authorized or certified fire boss could make a preshift examination of the coal mines.
That case was appealed by the coal association and the operators in general to the circuit court of Kanawha County and the attorney general's opinion was sustained and also it was appealed to the State supreme court and the State supreme court sustained the opinion of the circuit court.
In order to get that provision of the law changed, the coal association introduced a bill in the 1951 session of the legislature whereby it would be permissible lawfully that any certified person who had qualified as a fire boss under the West Virginia mining law would be lawfully entitled to make a preshift examination of the coal mines.
Now what they did, in changing the law these supervisors served in dual capacities. One capacity was in the production of coal and the other capacity was supposed to have been in the area of coal mine safety making a preshift examination of the mines. However, since that time we have not as a union been successful to amend the mining law as we felt it was desirable and assure the maximum degree of safety to the men employed in the industry. We have always encountered a legislative battle between the coal operators of the State and the union.
However, in the year 1957 a joint committee was formulated between the coal association and the mine workers to try to revise the West Virginia mining law since it had become antiquated and was predicated on the old system of coal mining. Then through the committee we were trying to revise it and did revise it as nearer to the standard of the Federal statute. However, it didn't meet the requirements that coal mine safety should.
I think the Congress of the United States, and the act was passed by the Congress in 1969, comes nearer to meeting this requirement to modern day coal mining and that it has complied in serving the health and safety of the men who are engaged in the occupation of coal mining.
I want to say that in my judgment serving as the director of safety of the district for 15 years I feel one of the most essential and one of
the most important to assure the maximum degree of coal mine safety is the preshift examining of a mine before each coal producing shift. I will state without any fear of contradiction that as of today I don't think there is a mine in the State of West Virginia that is meeting the preshift examination of a coal mine entirely in conformity with the present State law, not disregarding the past law.
For this reason we have multiple coal producing shifts today in the coal mining industry that produce coal three shifts a day. Lawfully these mines are classified in the State law and are required to employ what is known as the fire boss or preshift examiner that has been certified by the State department of mines.
Under today's regulation anyone holding such a certificate can lawfully perform these duties. At the time that we were opposing the amending of the old mining law by restricting these preshift coal mine examiners, the fire bosses, the fire boss of a mine, that was because we felt that this would be one of the most important functions of coal mine safety. In other words, a preshift examiner has to examine under the law from the drift mouth if it is a drift mine or the shaft bottom if it is a shaft mine or if it is a slope at the opening of the surface that proceeds underground. They are to examine all active roadways, travelways, haulways, face areas, and set a limitation of time in which this work is to be performed before the men are permitted to enter the mine to perform work.
Senator WILLIAMS. Is this the 1957 enactment?
Mr. LEEBER. No. What I am speaking of, this is what is in existence in this State today.
Senator WILLIAMS. That is the law?
Mr. LEEBER. That has been enacted-well, I would say it has been before my time, back since I was engaged in the sa fety work.
Senator WILLIAMS. Is this before every shift?
Mr. LEEBER. That is what the law specifies and requires at this time, but under the old law this work was to be performed by the regular employed fire boss.
Senator WILLIAMS. Who does it now?
Mr. LEEBER. Now the regular employed fire boss. We have a verbal agreement with the coal association or the coal operators for the first coal producing shift of the day it will be done by the regular employed fire boss but the subsequent shifts, the next or third shift, can be done by a foreman who does it on duty while he is also in charge of producing coal. This is my judgment is one thing, that I think the 1969 act of the Congress provides, the preshift examination of the mine before each shift and the time limitation of 3 hours.
I would say this also: that if the preshift examination of a coal mine was done in conformity with the existing State law and done properly, it would probably increase the number of those preshift examiners by sixfold to do this job and do it within the time limitations provided in the law, and that is what I refer to. I refer to all the