Independent report details UBB blast, rescue foul-ups

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on May 21, 2011 in Coal Mining Accidents

In our last post, we talked about the report of the independent investigator into the Upper Big Branch explosion. The investigator, J. Davitt McAteer, a retired mine regulator, found that Massey Energy Co. as well as federal and West Virginia regulatory agencies had failed to heed warnings of an impending disaster.

McAteer's research included testimony from workers who witnessed the accident at the mine. The picture they paint of that April 2010 day is unsettling.

For a month, workers had been requesting that conveyor belts be dusted. Conveyor belts are known to be sources of fires. The 561 requests were answered only 65 times, and miners reported that equipment used in dusting broke down more than a few times.

In addition, federal inspectors cited the mine for ventilation violations many times during the three months leading up to the accident. One citation was for a reverse of air flow in part of the mine that had continued for three weeks. Alterations to air flow must be approved by regulators.

So it was when workers arrived for the first shift. They found an accumulation of dust as well as ventilation problems. A pump had failed, and two miners went in to make repairs. High water can impede air flow in an underground mine, and this water was chest deep.

The workers, however, went in without methane monitors. A buildup of methane is a huge risk when ventilation systems malfunction - and methane explodes.

Other workers noted the ventilation issues, as well. Usually, a mine is cooled by air that continuously moves through it. That day, though, the mine was "miserably hot," according to testimony.

Workers in another part of the mine realized that air was moving in the opposite direction from the day before. If the ventilation system had been altered, it had happened without the required regulatory approval.

Continued in our next post.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Report Faults Massey in Miners' Deaths," Kris Maher, 05/19/2011

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