Mine Safety Agency Issued Report Warning of Poor Inspector Training 5 Days Before West Virginia Explosion

Wednesday, April 07, 2010
Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy

Only five days before the worst mining accident in more than 25 years, the federal government’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was faulted for not doing a better job of training inspectors. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s inspector general found that while MSHA had increased its number and training of inspectors, more than half had not undergone mandatory retraining. The IG also faulted the agency for lacking “controls to track and assure completion of required periodic retraining by journeyman inspectors” and not punishing inspectors who failed to attend retraining courses.

In West Virginia, where at least 25 miners were killed in an underground explosion on Monday in the Upper Big Branch Mine, Democratic Governor Joe Manchin, state lawmakers and federal officials promised to examine the mine’s safety record. The mine, owned by Massey Energy Co., was cited for more than 50 violations in the last month alone. These included a dozen problems related to the accumulation of highly-combustible methane gas or with ventilation. Since 2005, the MSHA has cited the Upper Big Branch mine for safety violations 1,342 times and proposed $1.89 million in fines, including $911,802 in 2009.
Massey Energy is the fourth-largest coal company in the United States. The Upper Big Branch mine, like all but one of Massey’s processing plants, is non-unionized.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, during the current 2010 election cycle, “Massey employees and PACs have donated nearly $37,000 to federal political candidates--all to Republicans.” The Center also reported that in 2004, Massey CEO Don Blankenship, “contributed $3 million to the campaign of Brent Benjamin, who after winning a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, provided key votes in overturning a $50 million judgment against Massey Energy. That same year, Blankenship contributed $2.46 million to a federal 527 committee called And for the Sake of the Kids, which opposed the election of West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Warren McGraw.”
-David Wallechinsky Noel Brinkerhoff
Journeyman Mine Inspectors Do Not Receive Required Periodic Retraining (U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General) (pdf)
MSHA Response to Draft Report (U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General) (pdf)
West Virginia Mine Has Been Cited for Myriad Safety Violations (by Steven Mufson, Jerry Markon and Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post)
W.Va. Mine Owner Accused of Putting Safety Second (by Tim Huber, Associated Press)
Rescue Efforts Suspended After W. Va. Mine Blast That Killed 25 (by William Branigin and David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post)
Search for Missing Miners Delayed (by Lawrence Pierce, Charleston Gazette)
Families Hold Vigil in Mine Headquarters (by Ashley B. Craig and Zack Harold, Charleston Daily Mail)


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