Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Federal Inspectors "Could Have Done a Better Job" Before Massey Mine Explosion

This week, federal inspectors announced that they had missed safety problems when they inspected the Upper Big Branch mine before the explosion that killed 29 miners on April 5, 2010.

While they have not admitted they were at fault for the wrongful deaths, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has said that they "could have done a better job." The Upper Big Branch mine accident was the worst mine accident in the U.S. in the last 40 years.

According to a 200-page report by the MSHA, the inspectors failed to find all safety problems because:

  • Inspectors did not review all of the mine's examination record books even though there were entries showing that there were time hazards
  • There was poor communication between the field inspectors and federal officials
  • There was a rash of retirements as well as budgetary constraints that made the inspections team smaller during the months leading up to the accident

The MSHA said that the Massey Energy Co., who operated the Mine, was still to blame for the accident. Massey allegedly warned miners of inspections before they occurred and falsified safety records to prevent inspectors from finding dangerous conditions. Massey's leadership team valued profit over safety, putting the lives of miners at risk daily.

The explosion was caused by a small methane spark which grew into a much larger fire. The explosion could have been prevented with operable water sprays and proper control of explosive coal dust. According to the director of the MSHA, Joe Main, "If inspectors had walked into that section that day, that mine would have been shut down, without question."

The MSHA has made changes since the mine explosion, but the report recommends more administrative and regulatory changes, which officials will consider.

Safety in mines must be a top priority. When a mine company makes serious mistakes or a government agency fails to conduct a proper safety inspection that contributes to an accident, they must be held accountable.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Hazards in W.Va. Upper Big Branch mine missed, report reveals,"Chris Togneri, Mar. 7, 2012.

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