Coal Tattoo

Protecting Bud Morris’ legacy


Mine safety advocates in Kentucky are mounting a campaign to protect legislation enacted to respond to the death of Harlan County coal miner David “Bud” Morris. Bud graces the masthead of the Coal Tattoo blog, and was one of the subjects of a 2006 Charleston Gazette investigation about mine safety in America.

Bud died on Dec. 30, 2005, after he was hit by an underground coal car, cutting his left leg off 17 inches above the heel and crushing his right knee. But Bud didn’t have to die from those injuries. He bled to death because he did not receive proper  medical care at the mine.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration recounting of events is chilling:

Brandon Hatfield, scoop operator, was located in the cross cut opposite the off-standard shuttle car when he saw the Coal Hauler strike Morris from behind and fall into the Coal Hauler bucket. Section foreman Couch was the first person to offer to assist Morris. H&D had designated Couch as a select supervisor to receive ten hours or first aid training. However, H&D never provided Couch with the initial select supervisor first aid training or the select supervisor first aid re-training. Therefore, Couch began providing assistance to Morris the best way he knew how. Couch instructed Hatfield to summon help. He also instructed Allen to call outside for help and to travel to the No. 2 entry and locate mine owner, Gary Bentley, Mine Emergency Technician (MET). Couch was in the process of applying cravat bandages above the victim’s knees when Bentley arrived. No medical assessment was made concerning the extent of Morris’ injuries. Bentley simply instructed Couch to place Morris in a mantrip and take him outside. Bentley then turned and walked toward the other end of the Coal Hauler. Couch finished applying the cravat bandages. No other first aid measures were provided. Bentley returned and instructed Couch to place Morris on a mantrip and “get him out of here.” Couch, Hatfield, Tim Shackelford and Shawn Rogers placed Morris in the mantrip and traveled to the surface. Morris was not placed on a backboard. He was not covered to prevent shock. His extremities were not elevated and no other measures were used to stop the bleeding.

Bentley followed in another mantrip and was delayed because his mantrip shut down due to low battery power. He began walking out until he met with another mantrip to catch a ride out.

After the miners got Morris to the surface, they waited for the ambulance for 30-35 minutes. While they waited, Morris continued to bleed. Therefore, the miners applied two pieces of rope to each leg above the knee. Again, no dressings were applied to the injury. Morris’ extremities where not elevated. No pressure points were utilized. No tourniquets were applied to stop the bleeding.

A paramedic interviewed by MSHA investigators said that “basic first-aid in control of bleeding prior to my arrival would have resulted in a very different outcome.” The attending emergency room doctor at the Appalachian Regional Hospital also indicated that, the results “absolutely” would have been different had bleeding been controlled during the period before transferring the victim to the ambulance service.

MSHA concluded:

Complications to the victim’s recovery occurred because proper first-aid was not given to the victim. The mine operator did not ensure that the section foreman, as the select supervisor, was properly trained to perform first-aid.

Bud’s widow, Stella Morris, said it much better when I interviewed her in August 2006:

My husband went 55 minutes without any medical treatment, and that’s uncalled for.  He would still be alive today if they had treated him properly.

In response, the Kentucky General Assembly in 2007 passed landmark legislation that, among other things, required at least two Mine Emergency Technicians with medical training on working shifts at surface and underground mines.

Now, legislation has been introduced to repeal that law, and allow just one MET at smaller mines with less than 18 employees.

Stella Morris, with a little help from her attorney, Tony Oppegard, and Wes Addington  of the Appalachian Citizens Law Center, has launched a campaign against that legislation. They’ve produced a flyer, which I’ve posted here, and are distributing it to all Kentucky lawmakers. Steve Earle of the United Mine Workers union is also opposing this regulatory rollback.

Interestingly, the lead sponsor of the bill is Rep. Keith Hall of Pike County.  A quick check of records at Kentucky’s Secretary of State shows that Hall is listed as an officer of two coal companies, Beech Creek Coal Company LLC and Peter Creek Coal Sales LLC.

The Williamson Daily News did a story this week on the campaign against Hall’s legislation.


The Pump Handle blog reminds us that  Rep. Hall had previously bragged that the legislation he’s now trying to roll back was”setting the example in the nation.”

The Harlan Daily reports that Hall is now saying the MET part of the 2007 law is unfair to small coal operators:

These small operators lose day after day of production because one MET doesn’t show up.  The companies are not allowed to operate if they don’t have two underground METs.  I know of operations that have lost three days of production due to one MET having flu.  When that legislation was done, they never considered the small owner back in the mountains. This is not about what it costs operators. It is about us not running coal because we don’t have two MET’s.

But an editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader urges lawmakers not to roll back mine safety:

The mine-safety laws enacted in 2006 and 2007 are among the legislature’s best recent accomplishments. There’s no reason to roll back any of the protections, especially when there is so little to gain and lives to lose.