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Two miners — 48-year-old James David Thomas and 33-year-old Pete Poindexter — died in that incident, when a piece of mine roof that measured 8 feet by 9 feet by 18 inches thick fell on them. The section foreman, Richard Baugh, narrowly escaped being killed.
Thomas, Poindexter, and Baugh were allowed to travel closer than the minimum safe distance of 20 feet from the MRS [mobile roof support] machines specified in the approved roof control plan. This travel was also inby a previously mined portion of the adjacent coal pillar. While in this position, MRS #1 was lowered so that it was no longer pressurized against the mine roof. The accident occurred because effective safe work procedures and practices specified in the approved roof control plan were not enforced by mine management. In addition, miners were not properly trained in safe work procedures for retreat mining.
MSHA issued two major enforcement orders citing violations by the company, and Brooks Run paid $80,000 in fines.
The accident occurred because storm runoff water entered the mine portals after being diverted when culverts underneath the portals were blocked by debris, mud, and rock, caused by scouring and erosion from a mud slide. The slide prevented water flow through the culverts, which caused the water to back up and enter the mine. Another factor that contributed to the accident was the inability of the mine’s system of diversion ditches to handle the storm water flow, as designed. The diversion ditches were not maintained or kept cleared of sediment, rocks, or vegetation, such as trees and underbrush. This allowed the runoff water to overtop the diversion ditches, flooding surface areas above the mine portals. The mine’s escapeways were blocked when the surface water entered the mine, preventing seven miners from exiting the mine and entrapping them for approximately 24 hours.
The MSHA report listed two primary causes for the incident:
– The mine operator did not regularly monitor and properly maintain the mine’s system of diversion ditches, designed to route storm runoff surface water away from the mine portals and into ponds constructed to handle runoff.
– The mine operator failed to monitor the portals of the underground mine where storm runoff surface water entered the portals, accumulated in a low area in the mine and blocked the primary and alternate escapeways.
The other incident that was in the back of my mind was a legal settlement Alpha subsidiary Brooks Run Mining entered into in June 2009 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Here’s what the press release about that said:
Brooks Run Mining Company and staffing firm Neal & Associates will pay $115,000 to settle a sex-based discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
In its lawsuit, the EEOC had charged that women security guards as a class were discriminated against because of their sex. The EEOC asserted that once the women complained about sexual harassment, they were prevented – either by layoffs or transfers – from working at the Brooks Run Cucumber mine site, although security jobs were available to men.
… The EEOC said change occurred after one of the women complained in the summer of 2006 that she could see men undressed in the bathhouse, which was located near the guard station.
The lawsuit alleges that Cecil Daniels, manager of mines for Brooks Run, later told Neal & Associates not to assign female security guards to the Cucumber Mine. Neal & Associates then moved Drema Harmon and Jacosta Harmon to its Raw Coal site, also in McDowell County. Neal & Associates has not assigned any female security guards to the Cucumber Mine site since at least December 2006, the lawsuit alleges.
The EEOC charged that female security guards as a class continue to be discriminated against because of their sex, and once they complain about sexual harassment, they are prevented from working at the Cucumber Mine when security jobs are available to men.
Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex – including sexual harassment and pregnancy – or national origin.
“The mining industry is one of the industries still dominated by men, therefore, I believe these women displayed an extreme amount of courage in bringing forward their complaints,” said EEOC regional lawyer Jacqueline McNair.
In yesterday’s press release, Alpha’s Crutchfield said:
As we demonstrated in the Foundation transaction, we have a proven history of successful integrations since our inception in 2002, and we’ve built a strong track record of creating value through thoughtful strategic growth. We’re already prepared to launch a seamless integration process, which includes implementing our employee-driven Running Right philosophy of safety and environmental stewardship across the business. This is not just a combination of strong asset portfolios, but a transaction that will empower a combined group of almost 14,000 people and with a focus on continued investment in safety, the environment and our communities.