Thousands of West Virginia miners got safety lectures at the start of their shifts, and officials began a round of inspections across the No. 2 coal-producing state Thursday, Feb. 2, in a "timeout" urged by the governor, according to the Associated Press. Federal officials also asked coal mines nationwide to conduct a time-out, or "Stand Down for Safety," on Monday, Feb. 6.

West Virginia closed all coal mining operations in the state for safety checks on Wednesday, Feb. 1, after a series of accidents killed 16 miners in the past month. It is already the deadliest year in the state's coalfields in more than a decade.

Some companies said they spent a half-hour to an hour talking safety before sending their miners to work, according to AP.

Massey Energy Inc., the state's largest coal producer, said its safety discussions focused on escape routes, firefighting and the use of emergency air packs. Also, the company's miners were asked to perform safety checks on their equipment and work areas. Massey subsidiaries have suffered three deaths this year.

Mines are inspected quarterly in West Virginia, but Gov. Joe Manchin ordered the state mine-safety office to speed up checks for safety problems at the state's 544 mines.

Inspectors planned to focus first on those with higher-than-average accident, injury and violation rates. They will also examine such things as escape routes, conveyor belts and logs. Each inspection can take a few days to a few weeks.

West Virginia, which is second only to Wyoming in coal production, has 229 surface and 315 underground mines and about 24,000 coal miners. The number of mining deaths in West Virginia is up sharply from the record low of three last year.