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Renamed the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training in 1991, the Department of Mines was created early in the 20th century to strengthen enforcement of the state’s mine safety laws. Its duties today are to inspect all mining-related sites, train and certify mine employees, investigate all serious accidents, and maintain health and safety data related to mining. In addition to the main Charleston office, there are regional offices in Westover, Oak Hill, Danville, and Welch.

Although commercial coal mining had existed in present West Virginia since the first half of the 19th century, the first state mine safety laws were not enacted until 1883. That year, the legislature required the appointment of a state mine inspector, whose job was to see that mines were properly drained and ventilated. A bill providing for better ventilation in the mines had been first introduced in the legislature in 1875. State laws were strengthened in 1887, the year following the Mountain Brook mine disaster that claimed 39 lives in Preston County. The 1887 legislation created a position of chief mine inspector and set up four inspection districts. Mining laws were also printed in book form for the first time.

The Department of Mines was created in 1905. In 1919, the legislature provided for the establishment of mine rescue stations to train personnel in rescue and first-aid work. By 1929, the department had 25 inspectors and three inspectors at large, with an annual budget of $191,040, not including the salary of the chief of the department. In 1985, the department was merged into a new Department of Energy, later renamed the Division of Energy. The current Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training was established as part of a reorganization of the Division of Energy.

The policies and procedures of the mine agency have been updated through the years to keep pace with changes in the coal industry, including advances in technology and mining practices. Current mining statutes are set forth in Chapter 22A of the West Virginia Code. In 2010, the agency had 135 employees, including inspectors who are responsible for inspecting more than 642 mines, quarries and coal handling facilities. They also inspect the approximately 2,300 independent companies that are contracted to do work at mine sites.

This Article was written by Larry Sonis

Last Revised on October 20, 2010

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Cite This Article

Sonis, Larry "Department of Mines." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 20 October 2010. Web. 18 October 2018.

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