Mine Safety and Health Blog

The Official Blog of Mine Safety and Health News

Archive for November, 2011

Vol. 18, No. 22

Posted by Ellen Smith on November 21, 2011

  • Accidents:
    • Sherwin Alumina contract cleaning crew member hurt in 20-foot fall (609)
    • Haul truck goes off stockpile, injuring driver at DeAtley Crushing Co. (611)
    • Blasting accident in Maine quarry sends rocks flying through two houses, damages vehicles (611)
  • Discrimination: Federal judge rejects age discrimination lawsuit filed by Fola Coal miners (612)
  • Fatalities:
    • Lucky Friday mine suspends production after second fatality (612)
    • Hubble Mining Foreman Fatally Pinned By Personnel Carrier (613)
    • Octogenerian dies in crusher accident (614)
    • Nally & Hamilton Bulldozer Operator Dies 12 Days After Injury (614)
    • Malfunction plus lack of info blamed in death of service truck driver (615)
    • Bad brakes again blamed in second contractor death on haul road (617)
  • Investigations: M/NM Missed Inspecting 732 Mines In FY2010 Despite Claim of

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Vol. 18, No. 21

Posted by Ellen Smith on November 7, 2011

  • Accidents:
    • Nally & Hamilton dozer operator injured during reclamation (574)
    • Surface elevator outage at United Taconite causes lengthy entrapment (574)
    • Van Lear Mine suspends production after methane incident (575)
    • MSHA idles Peabody’s Willow Lake mine following series of roof falls (576)
  • Black Lung: Court upholds Byrd Amendment that entitles spouse to benefits (577)
  • Civil Penalties:
    • Who’s on first? An appropriate analogy for a civil penalty case (579)
    • Wilcoal Mining’s default orders adding up (580)
  • Criminal Proceedings: UBB Security chief found guilty by jury (580)
  • Electrical Equipment: ALJ fines company $1 for record book citation (581)
  • Equipment Safety:
    • MSHA issues warning about problems with remote control on continuous miner (581)
    • MSHA extends comment period on proximity detection systems (582)
  • Fatalities:
    • Two explosives specialists die in fall of highwall at Armstrong Coal (582)
    • Twelve Miners Have Died In Falls of Highwall Since 2002 (583)
    • Best Practices to Prevent Highwall-Failure Deaths (585)
    • Loader operator dies in Stillwater mine (587)
    • Adhesive fumes in confined space cause fatality (587)
    • Multiple failures caused double fatality in Barrick shaft, MSHA finds (588)
  • General News:
    • MSHA-head Joe Mains says inspection crackdown, safety programs don’t slow industry growth (592)
    • Miller on House Floor: UBB: ‘a corrupt corporate culture that put production ahead of human life’ (593)
  • Part 50 Reporting: Flooding from storm event should have been reported under Part 50 (594)
  • Private Suits: Sago families reach confidential agreement (595)
  • Rock Dusting: MSHA issues warning that some rock dust may not meet standards (595)
  • Significant & Substantial: Court upholds Commission, MSHA on S&S determination for safeguard notices (596)
  • Ventilation Plans: Missing warning ribbon not S&S violation of ventilation plan (597)
  • Review Commission and ALJ Decisions (599)

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Wilcoal’s Penalties adding up…

Posted by Ellen Smith on November 6, 2011

Wilcoal Mining Inc.’s Tri-State Mine in Kentucky, targeted last year by MSHA for egregious violations of the Mine Act, is now in default for penalties totaling $136,459 in two cases before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. Two default orders were signed by Chief ALJ RObert Lesnick on July 1, 2011, but just released by the Commission on Nov. 4.

MSHA’s records showed that the company had delinquent penalties of $264,859 in February 2011.

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Today’s history tidbit

Posted by Ellen Smith on November 5, 2011

Legislative history of the Mine Act on Civil Penalties:

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Rep. George Miller – Floor Speech on UBB Explosion

Posted by Ellen Smith on November 2, 2011

The following is a Mine Safety and Health News transpcript of Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., Floor speech before U.S. House of Representatives at 10 a.m. this morning.

Mr. Speaker, last week, the United Mine Workers of America released the results of their investigation into the deadliest coal mine tragedy in four decades. The report describes the conditions in in april 5, 2010 Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine that led to a colossal explosion killing 29 miners.

It confirms the findings of two other independent investigations. In short, Massey’s failure to eliminate explosive coal dust throughout the mine converted an otherwise manageable methane fire into a catastrophic explosion.

The force of this explosion traveled more than seven miles underground, destroying everything in its path. Miles of coal belts were decimated. Rail road tracks were twisted like pretzels. And massive mining equipment was tossed underground like lawn furniture during a hurricane.

The report noted that in the 15 months before the explosion, the mine was cited 645 times for violations of mine safety laws. They faced $1.2 million in potential fines. However, rather than improving safety, Massey challenged three-quarters of the fines.

And in the month before the explosion, miners had asked that the accumulation of explosive coal dust be addressed 560 times. However, management only responded 65 times.

The Upper Big Branch Mine was literally a powder keg.

The mine workers’ investigation concluded that 29 miners died because of a corrupt corporate culture that put production ahead of human life.

Massey Energy’s top management was well aware of the conditions at Upper Big Branch. They knew of the mountain of citations for dangerous conditions. But all they had to do was to file an appeal to get federal safety officials to back off.

Massey also obstructed mine safety inspectors by illegally alerting operations of an inspector on the property so they could cover up any noticeable problems.

And, management knew workers were complaining about conditions below ground. But all Massey had to do was remind these miners that they were free to find other employment if they continued to speak up.

Corporate officers didn’t mince words when it came to production over safety. In the “RUN COAL” memo from CEO Don Blankenship in 2005, told his workers that their only concern was to produce coal.

The message was clear from the very top: Produce coal, disregard safety problems or find another job. Miners of Upper Big Branch and other Massey mines have told Congress and investigators similar stories.

To enforce their perverse philosophy, top management demanded reports every 30 minutes on how much their mines were producing.

It is clear that Massey Energy management actively disregarded their workers’ health and safety. Unfortunately, the knowing violation of a mandatory health and safety standard is only a misdemeanor, no matter how many miners are killed. This kind of conduct needs to be made a felony, but efforts to increase sanctions have been stifled by the mining industry’s lobby.

Instead of being held accountable for decisions that caused 29 deaths, Massey Energy executives got a massive $195 million payout when they sold off their company, according to the United Mine Workers report. Even though Don Blankenship was forced to resign following the Upper Big Branch tragedy, he pocketed an $86 million golden parachute when 29 miners under the jurisdiction of his responsibility were killed..

You wonder why people are talking about the one percent? And the ninety-nine percent? The ninety-nine percent in that mine had their lives put in danger everyday they went to work for Massey. And every day they questioned it, they were threatened with a job loss. But the one percent walked away with $195 million for overseeing one of the most dangerous mining operations in the history of this country.

What about the families and the breadwinners of the 99 percent? They lost. They lost their breadwinner. They lost their husband. They lost their father. They lost their brother. Now they understand the disparity why people are occupying Wall Street, why people are occupying hometowns all over the country. We understand this.

But we know that these miners simply had to go to work. This was the job that was available to them, but they were [ride] rough-shod over by Massey.

These families are left to simply pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and may receive scraps later-on in some final determination.

It’s a familiar story in an era where Wall Street companies and their executives took big payouts after wrecking the economy.

But, Massey Energy executives’ decisions resulted in the destruction of 29 lives and 29 families. This makes Massey’s payouts even more disgusting.

Massey Energy was recently sold to Alpha Natural Resources. I have been personally assured that these corrupt practices won’t reappear with the new owner. However, there are some troubling contradictions that merit a careful watch.

Despite stating their intention to fully cooperate with the government investigation, Alpha is keeping some senior Massey managers who have invoked their Fifth Amendment rights. And Alpha’s recent actions to fight potential pattern of violation sanctions at former Massey mines doesn’t sit well either.

Yes, mining is a dangerous job. But not every mining company operates like Massey, nor should we tolerate the “Masseys” of the coal industry.

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