Coal companies would get tax breaks for spending more on safety equipment and training under a provision approved by the Senate Thursday.

The measure, authored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., passed by voice vote. It is part of a broader tax bill that still must win congressional backing.

The provision dealing with underground coal mining would allow companies to deduct half the costs they incur when buying safety equipment.

Such equipment would include devices allowing miners to communicate with people above ground, technology to track miners' whereabouts and extra oxygen packs.

Coal operators could get a break worth up to $10,000 for training people to conduct rescue operations during mine accidents.

Companies must act within three years to benefit from the tax legislation.

The cost of the mining provision tacked onto the tax bill has not been released.

National Mining Association spokesman Luke Popovich said the trade group generally supports giving companies financial incentives to buy new technology, but he said the group had not reviewed Rockefeller's proposal.

The Senate acted after West Virginia's governor ordered safety checks at all the mines in his state. West Virginia miners started their shifts Thursday with lectures on safety, and officials began statewide inspections at the mines.

Sixteen miners have died on the job in West Virginia since the start of the year, the latest in two separate accidents Wednesday.