Coal Tattoo

There’s growing attention from the media to allegations that Massey Energy routinely allowed (or even ordered) workers at the Upper Big Branch Mine to disable methane monitors in the months prior to the disastrous explosion that killed 29 workers.

See the most recent pieces from the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, and the continuing coverage by Howard Berkes at NPR and by the folks at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Updated:  And see more from Berkes this morning here.

Massey has vigorously denied that any of this sort of tampering with safety devices is allowed at its mine and on its Web site summarized the corporate safety philosophy this way:

Safety is the top priority for every Massey member. No coal company can succeed over the long term without a total commitment to safety and a significant investment in the necessary training, equipment and personnel. We strive to remain an industry leader in safety by developing new technologies and employing effective training programs to reduce accidents and improve safety for all of the hard-working men and women of Massey Energy.

All mining operations adhere to stringent safety standards intended to prevent accidents. We work hard to instill a zero-tolerance policy and commitment from all members, whether they work at corporate headquarters or in the mines, to make safety the number one priority – every day.

But as the investigation of Upper Big Branch continues, and the discussion of methane monitors rolls on, it is worth taking another look back at the deaths of Don Bragg and Elvis Hatfield at Massey’s Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in January 2006 …  Check out this discussion of the important carbon monoxide alarms at Aracoma, right there on pages 45-46 of MSHA’s investigation report on the Aracoma fire:

The section alarm and CO sensor located at the longwall headgate were removed from the mine. On May 23, 2006, the united were examined and tested at MSHA’s Approval and Certification Center in Tridelphia, WV, to determine their operational status. Tests were conducted to evaluate the condition of the equipment, assess the response of the sensor and alarm to application of CO to the sensor, and determine the operation of test buttons on the units.

During the initial examination, the internal battery of the alarm unit was found to be disconnected. Tests were conducted on the LED warning signals and the audible alarm signals. On June 1, additional tests were completed at MSHA’s Pittsburgh Safety and Health Technology Center to fully evaluate the sound levels of the alarm unit.

The visual warning and audible alarm system signals were significantly diminished because the battery was disconnected. The unit was originally shipped from the manufacturer with the battery disconnected. The instruction manual for this unit indicated the battery was to be connected prior to use.

It was not determined if the battery had been connected during initial installation, or if the battery had been disconnected some time after installation.

Remote alarm unit in headgate area on longwall section.