Monday, April 01, 2013

3 years after disaster that killed 29, coal-mine safety issues haven't been fully addressed, writers say

Ginny Graley and Chuck Mooney touch the silhouette
representing their brother during the 2012 memorial
dedication. (Gazette photo by Kenny Kemp)
To mark the upcoming third anniversary of the explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va., the Charleston Gazette ran an opinion piece saying not much has changed to secure the safety of miners. The piece was written by J. Davitt McAteer, former assistant secretary for The U.S. Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration and vice president of Wheeling Jesuit University, and Beth Spence, a coalfield specialist for the American Friends Service Committee's West Virginia Economic Justice Project.

"Those 29 men were killed because officials of a rogue coal company disregarded worker safety in the drive to produce coal. But that's not the entire story," the writers opine. "The miners also died because regulators, both from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training, abdicated their responsibility of making sure the operator complied with minimum fundamental safety requirements."

Safety issues are still not being met, the writers say. "In the first quarter of 2013, eight miners were killed in the nation's mines, five in West Virginia," they write. "This compares with five during the same period of 2012, two in 2011 and two in 2010. Instead of trending downward, deaths are increasing." Nineteen miners died in 2012, 21 in 2011, and 48 in 2010, the year of the Upper Big Branch accident, according to a report from the Department of Labor. The 48 deaths was the highest total since 55 died in 1992.

"One thing the Upper Big Branch disaster laid bare is the fact that high-ranking company officials who make decisions about safety in their mines are shielded from accountability when things go terribly wrong," they argue. "Upper Big Branch also offered compelling evidence that miners are not being adequately protected against black lung disease. Autopsies showed that, of the 24 victims who had sufficient lung tissue to examine, 71 percent had evidence of black lung, including men in their early 20s who had worked only at that mine. We have to ask ourselves how serious we are about protecting those at risk. So far, the answer is we're not very serious at all." (Read more)

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