Independent report says Massey and regulators failed UBB miners

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on May 19, 2011 in Coal Mining Accidents

The West Virginia mining community will have some heavy reading this week, now that J. Davitt McAteer, the independent investigator into the Upper Big Branch disaster, has released his findings. The former regulator conducted the investigation at the request of former Governor Joe Manchin.

McAteer's report details the series of events leading up to the coal mine accident and provides an insider's look into what happened the afternoon of April 5, 2010. His conclusions are clear: Both Massey Energy Co. and government agencies are culpable in the matter for their failure to address safety issues. And, hardest of all to hear, the accident could have been prevented if the company had adhered to standard mine-safety practices.

For example, Massey did not provide adequate ventilation in the mine. Nor did the company deal with high levels of coal dust all through the mine. These errors went hand in hand with federal and state regulators neither noticing nor attending to the high level of risk at UBB. The mine had experienced methane releases before -- regulators should have been alert to the problems there.

Regulators fell short in another area: enforcement. If they enforced safety guidelines at all, they did so with a velvet glove. These agencies imposed fines that provided Massey with little incentive to bring ventilation practices up to standard.

Preliminary investigations told the story of methane and coal dust, of a longwall shearer and a spark. McAteer's report includes testimony from miners and evidence that is new to the public, and the picture of that April day is much more involved, and much more heartbreaking than many could have imagined.

Continued in our next post.

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

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