Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A year later, lessons from 29-fatality explosion at Massey mine in W.Va. are still emerging

One year after the explosion at a Massey Energy coal mine in Montcoal, W.Va., killed 29 miners, mine-safety regulators are working to use lessons from the disaster to prevent similar events from happening in the future. Joe Main, head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration and an assistant labor secretary, says "many lessons in safety practices were learned at the expense of the victims, and his agency has methodically implemented them," Mannix Porterfield of the The Register-Herald in Beckley, W.Va., reports. While noting MSHA was only looking to report the evidence from its investigation not blame, Main told Porterfield "There’s one thing that is a matter of fact here. Massey Energy was running that mine, was responsible for making sure that health and safety measures were in place to protect those miners. It’s their mine we’re finding these conditions at." (Read more) (Register-Herald photo of memorial in Whitesville, W.Va.)

Former MSHA head Davitt McAteer, whom then-West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin appointed to conduct an independent investigation of the disaster, plans to release a report detailing failures of company safety systems and regulatory oversight leading up to the explosion within the next few weeks, Kris Maher of The Wall Street Journal reports. "It is without question that the prevention systems failed, and that includes company inspections and government inspections," McAteer, who ran MSHA during the Clinton administration, told Maher. Massey Chairman Bobby Inman told Maher he believed the explosion was a "natural disaster." (Read more)
Nearly 20 hours of recorded emergency radio traffic and phone calls, as well as printed 911 logs and transcripts, and notes from the command center at the mine documenting the disaster response following the explosion, show "a slow and tepid initial response to the dire emergency," Howard Berkes of National Public Radio reports. McAteer says the documentsshow two failures. "One is timely reporting of an extremely serious situation," he told Berkes. "And second is the accuracy of that initial report, which underplayed the circumstances of what was going on." (Read more)
The documents include handwritten lists of miners, indicating that officials at Massey had trouble determining who was underground at the time of the explosion. "One list suggests miners who died in the explosion were working with miners who weren't even there," Berkes writes. The confusion should never have happened, McAteer told Berkes. "You mean to tell me that in today's age, where computers can tell you within seconds the level of production off a longwall and where that coal is moving along the conveyor belt, we can't keep track of people? That's unacceptable." (Read more)

The disaster promptd MSHA to start unannounced "impact inspections," 39 of which have been conducted in Kentucky and 32 in West Virginia, Dori Hjalmarson of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. "There are more outlaw operators in Eastern Kentucky than anywhere in the country," Lexington mine-safety lawyer Tony Oppegard told Hjalmarson. (Read more)
Massey is idling production at its 60 underground mines today to honor the victims of the disaster, and will hold a company-wide moment of silence at 3:02 p.m. EDT. Nick Brockman of The Register-Herald reports on the various memorials planned throughout the region, and Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette has ongoing coverage of the anniversary at his blog "Coal Tattoo." You can read The Register-Herald's coverage of the anniversary here.

No comments: