Report Says Fatal West Virginia Mine Disaster Could Have Been Prevented by Regulators
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Joe Main, Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health
Had the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) done its job, nearly 30 miners might be alive today.
In April 2010, an explosion inside the Upper Big Branch Mine (UBB) in West Virginia killed 29 men digging for coal. But the accident might have been prevented had federal regulators followed up with the mine’s owner, Massey Energy, and made sure important safety-related changes were performed.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health concluded after assessing the agency’s work that “if MSHA had engaged in timely enforcement of the Mine Act and applicable standards and regulations, it would have lessened the chances of—and possibly could have prevented—the UBB explosion.”
In December 2011, MSHA released its own 972-page report on the disaster, which placed the blame squarely on Massey, concluding that “the physical conditions that led to the explosion were the result of a series of basic safety violations at UBB and were entirely preventable…. While violations of particular safety standards led to the conditions that caused the explosion, the unlawful policies and practices implemented by [Massey] were the root cause of this tragedy.”
The worker safety institute, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not dispute MSHA’s conclusion. However, it did report that “If MSHA enforcement personnel had completed required enforcement actions during at least one of the four UBB inspections,” regulators could have forced the mine’s operators to take actions that would have prevented a roof fall from occurring. That, in turn, would have reduced the likelihood of methane accumulating in dangerous quantities, “thereby eliminating the fuel sources for the gas explosion.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
To Learn More:
Breaking News: NIOSH Panel Says Proper MSHA Inspections and Enforcement Likely Could Have Prevented The Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster (by Ken Ward Jr., Charleston Gazette)
Report: Mine Safety Agency 'Could Have Prevented' Deadly Disaster (by Howard Berkes, NPR)
An Independent Panel Assessment of an Internal Review of MSHA Enforcement Actions at the Upper Big Branch Mine South (Department of Labor) (pdf)
Mine Safety Administration Blames Massey for Preventable Deadly Big Branch Disaster (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Mine Safety Agency Issued Report Warning of Poor Inspector Training 5 Days Before West Virginia Explosion (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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