Considering Mine Safety After W. Va. Blast

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A sign is posted on a mailbox near the entrance to the Upper Big Branch coal mine owned by Massey Energy Company and operated by Performance Coal Company in Montcoal, West Virginia, April 6, 2010. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty)

Monday night's explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia, left 25 confirmed dead and four more miners missing underground. Rescue operations were stalled yesterday because conditions were deemed too dangerous. The mine is owned by Massey Energy Company, which was immediately criticized for allowing egregious and numerous safety violations. Massey's CEO, Don Blankenship, responded in an interview with the Metronews radio network in West Virginia, saying, “violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process. There are violations at every coal mine in America.”

We get the latest on the rescue efforts and reactions from the community from Jessica Lilly, a reporter with West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Jessica has been on the scene since Monday evening. We also talk with Celeste Monforton, who worked for the Mine Safety and Health Administration for six years, about what can be done to make conditions safer for miners.


Jessica Lilly and Celeste Monforton

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja

Comments [4]

Beth Alonso from KOSU

Yesterday I heard a radio story which stated that most coal used for energy production comes from strip mining while most deep coal is a higher quality material mainly used for steel production. If this is true, isn't the industry's mantra that the dangers of mining (such as those of the trapped miners) are due to American expectations of cheap electricity a huge misdirection?

Apr. 07 2010 11:22 AM
Rory McLaren from Salt Lake City, Utah

Surprised at the news that the nation has suffered another devastating mining accident? I'm not. Want the truth about the general state of safety in America's factories, mines, plants, etc? Ask the men and woman who work tirelessly without adequate training, respect, or rest - America's underdogs - America's blue collar workers? The workers have created their own slogan for safety - "safety is number one until production goes down, and then the roles swiftly change." The downtime is usually attributed to poor maintenance in the first place. Again, the workers have a slogan for this, "management by crisis." After the last tragedy in West Virginia I wrote to MSHA, the Governor of West Virginia, and the head of the miners union advising them of an inherent safety problem in long-wall mining pertaining the shields. The Governor and the union ignored my letters. MSHA disagreed with my findings. However, the problem still exists. It should be blatantly obvious that the many American CEO's don't really care about safety. They don't seem to mind that their company's products are built by Chinese workers. People who have no safety, are beaten, work seven days a week, and have no time off when ill. They don't have to deal with the likes of OSHA, MSHA, NIOSH, et al., because it costs money. Enron, Worldcom, Lehman Brothers, Crandall Canyon, Sago Mine, Wilberg Mine - what do they all have in common? Profit at any cost! This accident, the ones that occur ever day, and the ones that will surely happen in the future are simply unfortunate by-products of profit at any cost.

Apr. 07 2010 10:11 AM
Phil La Duke from Detroit, MI

Less than two weeks ago I spoke at the International Symposium on Mining Safety, in Lima, Peru (this conference brought together mining companies from South America, Africa, and Australia.) and I am also write a monthly column on worker safety (The Safe Side) for Fabricating and Metalworking Magazine.
I was very disappointed by several things I heard during the discussion of mining safety:
1) Mining is intrinsically dangerous. Virtually every job in transportation, manufacturing, healthcare, energy exploration, mining, oil and gas, and more are intrinsically dangerous to some extent (according to the Bureau Of Labor Statistics the occupation with the greatest number of fatalities was sales---typically dying in traffic accidents). For people to shrug their shoulders at multiple deaths by excusing it as somehow the cost of doing business is reprehensible.
2) The contention by the CEO that “the company is safe”. In June I will be presenting an executive session to the American Society of Safety Engineers called The Seventh Value. In this speech I will argue the need that the absence of injuries does not denote the presence of safety. As long as organizations continue to think of safety in terms of acceptable injury levels and body counts (and it is not just C+ executives that hold this view, but many safety professionals as well) we will not see any improvements in worker safety.

This CEO is probably correct in his contention that other locations have a reasonably good
3) The accusation the mining companies aren’t taking reasonable safety precautions because doing so would cost too much and Americans expect energy, in this case, coal to be cheap. Worker injuries cost over $122 Billion a year in direct and indirect costs (and that is an old statistic) and relatively inexpensive safety management systems can save companies millions in reduced costs. I work with companies to implement a safety management system that is based on Lean Principles and predicting/removing hazards before someone is injured. We save individual locations an average of $2.5 million annually. That kind of money funds a LOT of safety improvements but other improvements as well. But many C+ executives neither understand the concept of safety as the reduction of risk of injury nor understand the relationship of worker injuries to the bottom line. Far too many organizations see the connection between worker injuries and loss of productivity, down time, impeded on-time delivery, absenteeism, recruiting costs, legal liability, poor quality, and host of other issues that cost the companies a fortune.
4) The underlying assumption that there is nothing we can do to improve safety in mining. This is a terrible tragedy made worse by the complacency that seems to surround not just mining but many industries when it comes to worker safety.
Phil La Duke

Apr. 07 2010 10:02 AM
Bill Chaloupka from Denver

Finally, the five letter word (union) has been uttered in the context of a coal mine disaster. In such a dangerous situation, multiple safeguards seem obviously necessary. Regulation is needed; company self-interest should help. And the miners should be organized.

Are union mines safer? Why has the UMW shrunk in recent years? Is it their own corruption or anti-union legislation? These are questions we don't hear when disaster strikes coal country.

Love your show. Keep up the good work.

Apr. 07 2010 08:11 AM

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