Massey mine exceeded 700 safety citations over two years
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
There is a lot to be appalled about in the explosion at Massey Energy‘s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia on March 5, which killed 29 miners — the deadliest American mine disaster in nearly 40 years. But the most appalling of all is Massey’s safety record — and the abject failure of regulations to protect the safety of the workers there.
USA Today reports this morning that the Mine Safety and Health Administration has released 1,100 pages — more than two reams of paper — that list more than 700 safety violations at Upper Big Branch, some 300 of which were potentially fatal or disabling. And that goes back only to January 2008 (the article says late 2008 but the MHSA list seems to start in January).
Just three days before the explosion safety officials ordered miners pulled from the Upper Big Branch mine because of insufficient air ventilation, which allows methane — both poisonous and and combustible — to build up, the paper reports. Such conditions are suspected in the blast that killed those 29 workers, though the investigation is still underway.
Massey, under chair Don Blankenship, is appealing many of the citations, which of course is the company’s right. But the old adage about smoke and fire comes to mind. Seven hundred violations in a little over two years. Three hundred of them potentially fatal. That’s one deadly near-accident every couple of days. Then 29 dead in one fell swoop.
And there’s no union at the Massey mines, largely due to Blankenship’s hardball approach to running his business, including threatening to close mines before agreeing to a union contract.
In the absence of union help, and given the regulators’ failure to protect, what is a worker to do?