An official from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) delivered a stinging indictment of the operators of the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine in West Virginia where 29 miners were killed in an explosion.
MSHA’s complete report on its investigation isn’t expected until this fall, but the agency briefed family members of the deceased miners on June 28 and released preliminary information to the media a day later.
The report accuses Massey Energy, the operator of the mine at the time of the explosion, of keeping two sets of books with hazards recorded in internal documents but kept out of records required by MSHA.
It’s also alleged that UBB managers pressured their internal examiners to not record hazards in the books. MSHA has referred those cases to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution.
MSHA also looked into miner training records for the two years leading up to the deadly explosion. It found 205 instances of training deficiencies, including:
- 104 miners didn’t complete required “experience miner” training, and
- 42 miners didn’t receive training before being required to perform a new task.
The preliminary information also echoes earlier reports that miners were intimidated into keeping quiet about safety.
A foreman was fired for stopping work for an hour to fix a ventilation problem. Despite dozens of citations from MSHA in the years before the disaster, there was only one instance of a miner calling the agency’s confidential hotline to report a safety problem.
MSHA listed four failures in its preliminary conclusions about what contributed to the explosion. Three of them were technical reasons, and the fourth was “emphasis on productivity to the detriment of safety.”
Many questions remain unanswered, including this one: Why didn’t MSHA use its authority to shut down the mine despite years of serious citations against it? MSHA says part of its investigation will eventually address what the agency itself could have done better.
Do you think, given evidence that Massey covered up safety problems and intimidated workers, that the mine’s managers should face criminal prosecution? Should MSHA be more aggressive in shutting down hazardous mines? Let us know what you think in the Comments Box below.