Personal Injury

Poor safety record, bad leadership caused mining deaths

Massey Energy, owner of the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, where at least 25 miners were killed on Monday, has had a long record of serious safety violations, many of which portended Monday’s tragic explosion and subsequent collapse of the mining shaft.

Massey is the nation’s fourth largest coal company and the largest coal producer in Central Appalachia, with bituminous coal mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia. Despite the size and scope of its operations, however, Massey invests very little in protecting its workers.

Between 2005 and Monday, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) cited the mine for 1,342 safety violations totaling $1.89 million in fines.

Most troubling, however, stands the fact that just last month, MSHA cited Upper Big Branch mine alone with some 50 citations for failing to control dust; improperly ventilating the mine for release of dust and methane (a combustible gas); inadequate safeguarding the mine from roof collapse; failure to maintain proper escape passages; and allowing combustible materials to accumulate within the mines.

According to the Associated Press, “in seven of the last 10 years, the mine has recorded a non-fatal injury rate worse than the national average for similar operations, according to MSHA statistics. One miner was killed at the operation in a July 2003 electrical accident and another in a March 2001 roof fall, according to MSHA records.”

Many critics view Massey Energy’s poor safety record and the resulting tragedy that killed so many miners as a direct reflection of CEO Don Blankenship’s leadership. Vehemently anti-Democrat and anti-green, Blankenship has channeled his energy and personal money into protecting his company’s profits at the expense of his workers’ safety.

According to the Washington Post, “Blankenship is also a longtime foe of unions, earning the enmity of union leaders. The mine where the accident took place Monday is a nonunion mine.”

Blankenship has also called some congressional leaders “greeniacs” and “crazy” for supporting environmental protections. According to the Washington Post, Blankenship has also manipulated political campaigns with his money and power to secure outcomes favorable to his company’s best interests.

Ironically, with Monday’s tragic loss of so many miners, Blankenship has poignantly demonstrated the vital importance of the very government regulations and worker protections he has rallied against for so long.