Safety and OSHA News

Report says Massey may face criminal charges in mine disaster

Sources have told a newspaper that federal authorities are interviewing current and former Massey Energy employees as part of a “sprawling criminal investigation” into the April 5 fatal explosion in the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia.

Twenty-nine miners died in the explosion.

The Charleston Gazette reports that the investigation is looking into whether any criminal violations of mandatory health and safety standards were committed in connection with the explosion at the Massey Energy mine.

Violating safety and health standards could lead to misdemeanor criminal charges. Faking required mine safety records or other safety documents required by MSHA is a felony.

Mining disasters with multiple deaths in 1989, 1991 and 1992 led to criminal charges against mine operators and company officials. The four most recent coal mining disasters — those with five or more deaths in one incident — didn’t lead to criminal charges.

An investigation into the January 2006 fire that killed two miners resulted in Massey Energy’s Aracoma Coal subsidiary pleading guilty to 10 criminal violations and paying a $2.5 million criminal fine, as well as admitting that one of the violations resulted in the deaths of the two miners.

Do you think Massey should face criminal charges in this case? You can enter your comments in the box below.

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  • Safety Lady

    I believe they should absolutely recieve criminal charges to the full extent of the law. They were 100% culpable in the deaths of those miners. One other question to ask would be what were the MSHA inspectors thinking/doing. Should the MSHA Inspectors be held accountable as well. I believe that they should be.

  • Mike

    This is obviously an attempt to make the current administration appear involved and concerned. How could there be criminal charges when they haven’t even determined what caused the explosion? If the government does not know what caused the explosion, they certainly can’t charge anyone for causing it. If they file charges unrelated to the explosion, then this is an appalling case of selective enforcement.

  • Brian

    Please look at the Sago Mine disaster. Everyone jumped to the conclusion that ICG was guilty. Congress even enacted the New “MINER” act increasing fines and MSHA’s regulatory power. It was not until this legislation was passed that MSHA’s accident investigation revealed that it was caused by a lightning strike. As safety professionals, don’t we gather the facts objectively and then publish the root causes? I would be cautious of any investigation that started by finding who was at fault. In all of the training I have received in accident investigation it has been said repeatedly that accident investigations are not fault finding exercises but are to find the causes of the accidents so that they might be prevented in the future.
    It was stated that that MSHA does not have the power to shut down a mine, what does a withdraw order do then? If the conditions in this mine were as bad as has been reported, why didn’t MSHA withdraw the miners? As to the citations Massey received, wasn’t each one terminated to the inspectors satisfaction? Safety Lady, if you are going to assess blame, MSHA should be scrutinized as well.

  • Safety Lady

    Did you read my reply? “Should the MSHA Inspectors be held accountable as well. I think they should.”

  • Mike

    Safety Lady,

    On what basis do you assert that the Massey (or anyone) is 100% culpable for the deaths? That conclusion is likely based on a lot of irresponsible assumptions.

  • Safety Lady

    It’s based on news reports that came out stating that Massey was aware of the problems with ventalation and that recently they went to court to fight MSHA’s findings. What makes you think they would not be?

  • Roger

    Absolutely, once it has been determined they were @ fault. But also mine inspectors should reap same fines, firings, and criminal charges. Seems awful suspicious inspectors let this mine stay operating with all the problems we are now hearing about.

  • Mike

    The cause of the explosion has to be determined before any fault assigned. Since they are still investigating the explosion it is very premature to assign blame to anyone. Assigning blame based on media reports is particularly unprofessional.

    Going to court to fight MSHA has nothing to do with safety. 1st – contesting citations does not relieve you of the obligation to alleviate the perceived hazard. Contestment impacts how the company pays fines, not changes to conditions in the workplace. 2nd – everyone has the right to due process. If someone accuses you of violating federal law, you have the right to refute that accusation. Are you suggesting that enforcement officials should have not oversight and that they are always right?

    From what I understand, MSHA forced them to change their ventilation plan. It is entirely possible that MSHA’s changes played a role in the explosion. In that case, would you prosecute the MSHA officials who demanded the change?

  • SafetyMan

    There are two issues here: 1. General safety conditions in the mine and 2. The explosion. Massey could be found in violation of 1 but exonerated on 2. If 1 caused 2, then they are, or should be, in real big trouble.