Six months before 29 workers died in its Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, owner Massey Energy received three Sentinels of Safety awards from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
An article in The Washington Post says such apparent contradictions have some in the safety community scratching their heads. How can the same agency that filed hundreds of violations to Massey in 2009 bestow an award on the company in the same year?
“This allows companies to promote themselves in a certain way. Shareholders and employees are told: ‘The government thinks we are safe,'” said Celeste Monforton, a former senior MSHA official and assistant research professor in occupational health at George Washington University.
“It can potentially be used as a shield against criticism when problems arise,” said Monforton, who is also an author of influential public health blog The Pump Handle.
Massey pointed to its safety awards from MSHA in the days and weeks after the Upper Big Branch disaster.
You don’t have to go far on its website to find Massey touting its government award. Click on “safety” on the company’s homepage and then on “awards.” You’ll come to a page listing its “awards for safety achievements.”
And 2009 isn’t the first year MSHA gave Massey safety awards under questionable circumstances. In 2008, Massey’s Aracoma Alma mine in West Virginia where two miners died two years earlier received a safety award.
The government and Massey were still fighting over fines associated with those deaths at the time of the awards ceremony.
Monforton has a suggestion regarding these awards: a three- or five-year moratorium when there’s a fatality.
Should the government get out of the safety awards business? Should companies be banned from receiving the awards for a certain period following a worker fatality or large fines? Let us know what you think in the Comments Box below.