MSHA: ’All Explosions Are Preventable’

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

The Mine Safety and Health Administration held a conference call for the media today to discuss the agency's preliminary report on the April 5, 2010 Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion. The agency's administrator for coal mine safety and health would not assign fault to the mine's operator, Massey Energy Co., although he did say that MSHA has "always taken the position that all explosions are preventable."

The preliminary report is based in part on 261 interviews; several people will be interviewed again before the final report is released. The administrator added that 18 people invoked their Fifth Amendment right not to testify -- two of whom, the press reported, had entered the mine after the explosion, prompting the victims' families to question their actions.

MSHA expects the technical analysis will take another 90 days to complete. The agency did say that ignition could be traced to worn bits on the longwall shearer. Because the water sprayers were missing, the spark was not extinguished immediately. Methane provided the fuel for the first fire that then ignited the coal dust. Reports from the day of the explosion showed an excess of coal dust near the explosion site.

Before the final report is ready, MSHA will conduct more interviews and revisit parts of the mine (particularly the longwall face. Investigators also plan to remove the man trip from the site. While most of the information will be available to the public, the U.S. Attorney's office asked MSHA not to release the interview transcripts while the criminal investigation is still under way. It's an unusual request in an unusual case -- a criminal investigation does not generally overlap so closely with an MSHA investigation.

The Upper Big Branch explosion killed 29 miners. It is the worst coal mining disaster the U.S. has seen in 40 years.

Resource: WTRF-TV "MSHA Blames Methane and Coal Dust for Explosion; Worn Bits Provided Spark"

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