Labor head: Mine deaths during shutdown ‘extremely troubling’

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"The circumstances surrounding each of these fatalities are different, and I do not want to draw immediate conclusions as to their causes based on incomplete evidence at this time. But it is extremely troubling that within a week after the federal government shutdown caused the normal system of mine safety inspection and enforcement to come to a halt, three miners are dead,” she said in a statement.

The agency charged with regulating safety in mines, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), has had to furlough more than 1,300 staffers, about 59 percent of its workforce.

Those cutbacks have forced it to halt most of its regular operations, including routine safety checks. However, the agency has been able to continue making some inspections, investigate accidents and safety complaints and perform some other functions.

"The shutdown means that there are fewer mine inspectors on the job,” Roberts said. “The government's watchdog isn't watching.”

She added that miners should tell members of Congress that “while they're squabbling, miners are dying."

None of the miners were members of the UMWA, though the miner killed in West Virginia used to be.