Dozens of miners are testing positive for drugs after a new state law gives coal companies the option to test their workers. The law went into effect July 12th and under the law, coal companies aren't required to test miners for drugs, but can volunteer to do so. Almost 60 miners have tested positive for drugs in the first 60 days and it has many advocates worried.
In two months, nearly sixty miners have tested positive for drugs and been suspended from work.
"Allowing miners to work in a workplace where other coworkers aren't under the influence," said attorney Wes Addington.
That number isn't startling to some mine safety advocates.
"People who are close to the coal industry knew that there was a significant drug use problem among miners," said Tony Oppegard.
Many miners who have been suspended are already appealing their tests. Wes Addington represents one of those miners. He says the law gives a second chance to miners who do test positive with treatment programs and appeals.
"Hopefully the state uses those to encourage workers to get on the right track, and work safely," Addington said.
But one advocate for miners says the drug testing is not without some flaws.
"There are a lot of miners who do get hurt, who get back injuries, muscle injuries, and we certainly have to find a way not to penalize those miners who are on a prescription drug, as long as you're not abusing that drug," Oppegard said.
And even though advocates say drug testing makes mines safer, companies have reasons not to voluntarily screen miners.
"Some companies are reluctant to test because they are afraid they will lose miners if they do test," Oppegard said.
While many say it’s too early to tell how well the new law will work, Addington says one thing is definitely unfair to miners.
"I do think it's unfair for miners who have to work with other miners who do abuse drugs, but their company doesn't do voluntary testing," Addington said.
But safety advocates say that in an industry that's already inherently dangerous, there's no room for an impaired worker.
This new law only applies to miners who are already certified and in the workforce. Safety Advocate Tony Oppegard says that new miners have to be certified as drug and alcohol free to get a miner's card and he says that is helping to weed out substance abuse problems in the industry as well.