McAteer report: Faking safety examinations, disabling methane monitors widespread at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine

May 19, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

The McAteer team’s new report on the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster describes in some detail the alleged actions of a Massey Energy foreman, Jeremy Burghduff, who it appears didn’t always perform the important mine safety checks required of him.

Burghduff was responsible for “firebossing” the important mine tunnels near the longwall section, the area leading back to the mine’s main ventilation fan at Bandytown. According to the McAteer report:

Investigators downloaded data from the methane detectors used by Burghduff for the period of September 2009 through April 23, 2010. In the seek weeks preceding the disaster, when he was supposed to be checking for hazardous conditions in the area leading back to the Bandytown fan, the “Burghdog” device was not turned on during at least 25 of his work shifts.

The report continues:

The foreman’s anemometer readings taken in the Bandytown fan area were also questionable. Investigators questioned the lack of fluctuation in readings taken from February 16 through March 10. The velocity generated by the fan was approximately 400,000 cubic feet per minute. Yet Burghduff’s reading indicated less than one-tenth of one percent variation.

The McAteer team commented:

This data raises doubt about the daily and weekly air readings and other data recorded by the crew foreman in the weeks leading up to the disaster. Accurate air readings and water levels in those key ventilation entries would provide a valuable history of conditions in a critical part of the mine in the days and weeks just prior to the explosion.

Incredibly, the McAteer report also tells us:

Data downloaded from methane detectors indicated that devices used by other foremen also had not been turned on at times when the foremen were underground and responsible for identifying hazardous conditions.

And in an issue that NPR’s Howard Berkes has done much reporting about, the McAteer team says:

Testimony suggested that methane detectors on equipment had been ‘bridged out’ or disabled, so that production could continue without taking time to make repairs. Although equipment disabling has not been directly tied to the explosion itself, this practice is a present and constant danger to workers and a violation of state and federal law.

Davitt McAteer just told the Upper Big Branch families:

This company ran this mine in a profoundly reckless manner.


6 Responses to “McAteer report: Faking safety examinations, disabling methane monitors widespread at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine”

  1. charlie says:

    When will high level Massey officials be brought to justice?
    Tomlin and Maloney better make mine safety a top priority but thats wishful thinking..

  2. UMWA Miner says:

    You can blame blame blame but the bottom line is we all need to take a little responsibility. This “get it done at all costs” mentality kills. I would rather risk my job than risk my life! I have a family to come home to and they are more important than coal coming out on the belt! Don’t fear Massey fear losing your family!!!

  3. clay ton says:

    Charlie: ‘The Turks have a homely proverb applied on such occasions: they say “the fish stinks first at the head”, meaning, that if the servant is disorderly, it is because the master is so.’ http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/fish-rot-from-the-head-down.html

    ‘Mr. Blankenship received backing from the company’s lead outside director, retired Navy Admiral Bobby Inman. Mr. Inman said in an interview that the CEO “retains the full confidence of the board in managing” Massey. He said it was too early to speculate on what caused the explosion. “Until [investigators] can get in the mine and reconstruct what happened, everything is conjecture,” he said.’ Wall Street Journal APRIL 10, 2010 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304024604575173124104736684.html

    When you live above the law (Inman held ‘influential positions in the U.S. Intelligence community’) it commands great respect in certain circles and in the case of Massey and Don Blankenship I speculate that guidance from Admiral Inman’s position of strength (government insider) gave Blankenship the power he needed to be ruthless and fearless while protecting Inman from any direct responsibility.
    My deepest sympathy to the families of the men lost due to the greed of the management, investors and leaders of Massey Energy.

  4. don't be deceived says:

    How could anyone believe that Blankenship, Adkins and other higher ups didn’t know of these violations? But the bigger question is why would Alpha hire some of these people? Doesn’t look like such a big difference between Blankenship, Massey and Alpha does it?

  5. mari-lynn says:

    Thanks to Mr McAteer for this extraordinary investigation and report. I am left asking myself how in the world this company has been allowed to operate in this manner. Clearly, this “culture” was endemic and long standing. I think we are obligated to work for the reforms in the report. Our eyes have been opened.

  6. oldcoalminer says:

    DADS. I heard this so many times in the years i spent with Massey.
    Translation ” Do As Don Says”. Unfortunately Don was an excellent accountant not a coal miner. This was a coal mine not a bread factory. When corners are cut just to make the deadline for the Chairman, Don, bad things can happen. You’ll have that in coalmining if the men running the operation seek to please their superiors more than the safety of their men.

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