Coal Tattoo

cecilsenatehearing2010

Here’s the statement just issued by the United Mine Workers of America and union President Cecil Roberts:

In the wake of a strongly-worded letter sent by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) to President Barack Obama regarding the lack of progress on important mine safety and health regulations, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) expressed its support for the Senator’s viewpoints.

“I agree wholeheartedly with the letter that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) today sent to President Obama about the lack of progress by his administration on critical health and safety initiatives for American coal miners,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. 

“As Sen. Rockefeller points out, the terrible scourge of black lung is once again on the rise,” Roberts said. “We know what causes it, and we know how to prevent it. The delay in implementing limits to miners’s exposure to respirable coal dust puts more and more miners at risk every day.”

The statement continued:

The UMWA has been consistently and frequently in contact with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) about the delay in the dust rule over the past several months. “We have discussed what we believe is the right language to protect miners’ health with the agency,” said UMWA International Secretary Treasurer Dan Kane. “We look forward to a rule that reflects those parameters coming soon from MSHA.”

Promised rules to require the installation of proximity detection devices on mining equipment also remain in limbo. “Far too many miners are killed each year when they are crushed by equipment underground,” Roberts said. “The technology exists to make those deaths preventable, and we join Sen. Rockefeller in urging the administration to get moving, and take action to save miners’ lives.”

Obama Mine Explosion

President Barack Obama speaks during a memorial for the victims of the Upper Branch Mine explosion at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center in Beckley, W.Va., Sunday, April 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

It’s been more than three years since President Obama came to West Virginia and, speaking at a memorial service for the 29 men killed in the worst coal-mining disaster in a generation, said these words:

How can a nation that relies on its miners not do everything in its power to protect them? How can we let anyone in this country put their lives at risk by simply showing up to work; by simply pursuing the American dream?

Since that terrible day in April 2010, the Obama administration, through the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, has taken a variety of strong steps to protect the health and safety of coal miners — stepped-up “impact” inspections, a new pattern of violations rule, new requirements for better safety inspections by mine operators, and long-overdue updates to dust-control rules aimed at helping to prevent explosions and fires, just to name a couple. And it is an Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney, Booth Goodwin, who continues a broad criminal investigation into Upper Big Branch and the safety practices at the former Massey Energy.

But as we’ve written here before, several key mine safety initiatives — most importantly new rules aimed at helping to end black lung disease — have faced repeated delays and appear pretty well stalled. While West Virginia political leaders have been back at it again recently, slamming the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce coal-mining impacts and do something about global warming, you haven’t heard many of our elected officials — and certainly not the “Friends of Coal” crowd — objecting to delays in these life-saving programs.

Jay RockefellerNow, at least one West Virginia political leader is starting to press President Obama for some action. As we reported in this morning’s Gazette, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., today sent a strongly worded letter to the president about the black lung rules and a pair of stalled regulations aimed at ending the needless deaths from crushing and pinning accidents in underground coal mines. Sen. Rockefeller told Obama:

I am extremely disappointed that rules designed to protect the health and safety of our nation’s coal miners appear to again be delayed in the release of the Spring Unified Regulatory Agenda.  I urge you in the strongest possible terms to direct your administration to move forward as expeditiously as possible on all of these issues, and to reaffirm your administration’s commitment to protect the health and safety of our nation’s coal miners.

 

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Another coal miner dies on the job

Mine Explosion

Here’s some sad news from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:

On July 31, 2013, at approximately 7:00 a.m., a twenty-eight year old mechanic, employee of Amerikohl Mining, was fatally injured while trouble shooting a strut on a CAT 773E rock truck. The fatally injured victim was found lying between the right front tire and the bottom of the fender. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene by the Indiana County Chief Deputy Coroner. The victim had 7 years and 45 days experience as a mechanic at this mine.

The incident occurred at the Amerikohl Strips Mine, located near Dubois, Jefferson County, Pa. Steelyn G. Kanouff is the 11th coal miner killed on the job this year in the United States.

MSHA offers mid-year ‘mine fatality update’

joemainfeb1220101

This is today’s announcement from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:

During the first half of 2013, 18 miners died in work-related accidents at the nation’s mines, one less than in the first half of 2012.

Nine each were killed in coal mining and metal and nonmetal mining accidents. Six coal miners died in less than 30 days – four of them in West Virginia – which led to increased actions by MSHA. In both coal and metal and nonmetal mining, one of the miners killed was a contractor.

Among the nine coal mining deaths, two miners died in machinery accidents, three in powered haulage accidents, and two in roof fall accidents. One miner died in an accident resulting from exploding vessels under pressure when he was struck by a hydraulic cylinder on a filter press, and one was killed in a hoisting accident.

In metal and nonmetal mining, one miner died in a fall of highwall, one was killed in a machinery accident, and one miner died in an accident involving explosives and breaking agents. Four miners were killed in powered haulage accidents and two miners in falling material accidents.

MSHA chief Joe Main said:

The one recurring element in the fatalities we’ve seen this year is that they were preventable. The final numbers released by MSHA earlier this month showed that 2012 had the lowest mining death and injury rates in the history of U.S. mining. Many mines operate every shift of every day, year in and year out, without a fatality or a lost-time injury.  Mining workplaces can and must be made safe for all miners.

Coal company drops case against Ky. miner

Jessica Lilly over at West Virginia Public Broadcasting is reporting this afternoon:

Muhlenberg County Court says Armstrong has dropped the suit against former surface miner, Reuben Shemwell. A judge ordered that the coal company drop the civil suit or face a daily fine.

Reuben Shemwell says he’s having a hard time finding work. He’s doing odd jobs to get by because, he says he’s been ‘black-balled’ from the coal industry.

“I said what I said and from then on it was hell,” former surface miner and welder Reuben Shemwell said.

By way of background:

Reuben Shemwell says life on the job was tough after he refused to work in unsafe conditions at Armstrong Coal in Kentucky.

He was fired in September 2011. He says he was fired because he stood up for safety rights.

“They would call us in to do maintenance on the drag line,” Shemwell said. “We had a certain amount of time and we had to have it up and running. At whatever the cost would be they just wanted it up and running.”

And so the legal process began. First, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission determined that Shemwell’s complaint was not frivolous which meant he qualified for ‘temporary reinstatement.’ It’s a status meant to help miners through the boom and bust of the industry by returning to work as things play out in court.

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How coal miners die on the job

WillowLakeDeath

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued the report of its investigation into the Nov. 17, 2012, death of Chad Meyers, a 30-year-old continuous mining machine operator killed at Peabody Energy subsidiary Big Ridge Inc.’s Willow Lake Portal Mine in Saline County, Illinois. Here’s the summary:

On Saturday, November 17, 2012, at approximately 3:25 a.m., Chad Meyers, a 30-year-old continuous mining machine operator, was fatally injured while repositioning a continuous mining machine on the No. 5 working section. Meyers was backing the continuous mining machine out of the first cut of a crosscut being developed to the left of the No. 4 entry. As Meyers was repositioning the continuous mining machine to mine the right side of the crosscut, he was pinned between the continuous mining machine cutter head and the outby coal rib.

The administrative controls and policies in place at the time of the accident were not adequate to prevent the practice of operating continuous mining machines from an unsafe location. Also, no engineering controls were in place to prevent this type of accident. The accident occurred because the victim operated the machine while he was located between the left side of the cutter head and the coal rib.

MSHA investigators listed these root causes:

— The mine operator did not ensure compliance with provisions of the approved roof control plan requiring that all persons be in a safe location away from any part of the continuous mining machine when the machine is being repositioned or trammed. The continuous mining machine operator was located in the “Red Zone” between the continuous mining machine and the coal rib while the machine was being repositioned.

— The operator did not enforce its Red Zone policy. Accident investigators found that Red Zone violations were a practice.

The MSHA report concluded:

To prevent this type of fatal accident, mine operators must strictly adhere to the requirements of their approved roof control plans, which includes strictly following policies and procedures that keep miners from entering Red Zones. Also, proximity detection systems should be installed on all continuous mining machines.

Not for nothing, but regarding that last part — proximity detection systems should be installed on all continuous mining machines — MSHA recently pushed back its timeline for a regulation to require proximity detection systems.

‘What’s going on?’

Yesterday’s release of the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training report on the November 2012 death of CONSOL Energy miner Markel Koon in a coal-slurry impoundment offered some frightening details of what happened — and also raised some serious questions about how well one of the nation’s largest coal producers managed a particularly dangerous sort of operation.

First, the report’s description of those moments just before and just after the collapse is really something else, providing a sobering picture of what these mine workers went through. As we explained in today’s Gazette:

At about 11:30 a.m., CONSOL engineer Paul Stuart Carter arrived at the site “after receiving numerous emails from Mr. [Michael] Friedline, [a CONSOL supervisor], in the past weeks concerning the high readings being obtained” on the embankment’s pressure monitor.

Carter and Friedline went to the location of the monitor, where they “observed excessive bubbling of water in the impoundment along the eastern toe/slope and east of the [monitor],” the report said.

“Mr. Carter asked Mr. Friedline if he had noticed the bubbling earlier in the day,” the report said. “Mr. Friedline said, ‘yes, but not as bad.’ Mr. Carter then stated, ‘we need to get off the fill.'”

Friedline radioed Koon, who was operating a dozer on the outer slope of the dump, telling him to leave the area.

The report itself continued:

Mr. Koon was pushing refuse up the slope to install berms and to seal and track loose material of the outer slope. Mr. Koon immediately trammed the dozer to the top of the slope when a large crack began to develop across the refuse fill area.

After the large crack developed, a large section of the fill immediately became unstable. Water/slurry shot through the developing cracks, causing large sections of refuse to break off, sinking into the impoundment.

Mr Koon was heard on the radio saying “what’s going on” as the refuse fill began to fail. The dozer was located on top of the outer slope with the blade toward the dam, when the material under the dozer became unstable. As the section of the refuse began to slide, it caused the dozer that Mr. Koon was operating to turn, going blade first into the water of the impoundment. The cab of the dozer was visible for a few seconds then sank into the water.

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Remembering the cost of coal

As part of its continuing series, Fifty Years of Night, the Lexington Herald-Leader over the weekend provided an important reminder of the true cost of coal to our society. The first story, headlined Hundreds died in Kentucky coal mines in decades after mine blast exposed safety problems, focused on the Topmost Disaster in 1981:

One night in November 1981, Roy Conley saw an unusual glow around the electrical center at the small underground coal mine in Knott County where he worked, and he took it as a divine warning.

Conley kept it to himself for three weeks, but the worry was making him ill. He broke into tears when he finally told his wife: “I feel in my heart I’m going to get killed.”

He skipped the next work day at the Adkins Coal Co. mine at Topmost.

But with young children to feed and bills to pay, he went back on Dec. 7, 1981 — the day the mine blew up, killing eight men less than an hour into their shift.

It was the worst mine disaster in the county’s history.

The blast was part of a string of disasters that quickly focused scrutiny on regulators and coal-industry practices. Lawmakers strengthened safety rules, but another 1,518 U.S. miners, including 445 in Kentucky, would die on the job in the next three decades.

And it reminds us of what Harry Caudill wrote in Night Comes to the Cumberlands:

Whitesburg lawyer Harry M. Caudill’s father lost an arm in an accident at a coal tipple, so Caudill knew well the dangers of mining when he wrote his wrathful indictment of coal’s history in Eastern Kentucky, the book Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area.

A “shockingly high” number of accidents in the early years of the industry killed and maimed miners in roof falls, explosions, machinery accidents and electrocutions, Caudill wrote in the 1963 book.

It was difficult to know the number of deaths and injuries, Caudill wrote, “but thousands of widows and orphans were left in the camps, and multitudes of ruined, broken miners were cast out to loaf before their dreary hearths and on the porches of the commissaries.”

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SNL Financial has the sad news:

A 35-year-old coal miner was killed July 2 at Peabody Energy Corp.‘s Wildcat Hills underground mine in southern Illinois, according to a company spokeswoman.

The name of the victim was not released. The spokeswoman said the fatality was the “result of a coal haulage incident.” The Wildcat Hills mine has been idled pending investigation, and appropriate officials with the state and federal government have been notified, she said.

That’s the 10th coal-mining death so far in 2013, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this morning gave the widows of coal miners Don Bragg and Elvis Hatfield another small victory on their way to getting their day in court against the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

In this short opinion, the 4th Circuit shot down the latest efforts by the federal government to delay the case brought by Delorice Bragg and Freda Hatfield over MSHA’s role in the January 2006 coal-mine fire that killed their husbands at Massey Energy’s Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine. Citing the February 2013 decision by the West Virginia Supreme Court, the 4th Circuit said:

In light of this helpful state law guidance, it is now clear that the district court’s dismissal of the Appellants’ suit on the basis that a private person under circumstances analogous to those alleged against the United States would not be liable under state law was erroneous. For this reason, we vacate the district court’s dismissal of Appellants’ complaint and remand the matter for further proceedings.

 

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Coal miner killed in Alabama

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration reports today that there’s been a coal miner killed in Alabama, at the Jim Walter Resources No. 7 Mine near Brookwood.

Here’s what was reported by the local media:

A 36-year-old man was killed in a mining accident at the Jim Walters Resources mine No. 7 in Brookwood on Thursday, according to the Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit.

The victim fell from a walkway onto equipment, which was in operation, according to police.

The victim died on scene.

Some readers may recall that there was a miner killed in November 2009 at this same Jim Walter Resources operation. This is the 9th coal-mining death so far in 2013. The industry had managed to get through April and May without any fatalities.

Back in February, when one-time Massey Energy official David C. Hughart alleged that former CEO Don Blankenship was part of a conspiracy to cover up mine safety violations, Blankenship’s lawyer made it pretty clear what he thought of Hughart and his claims. As we reported at the time:

William Taylor, a lawyer for Blankenship, said his client has done nothing wrong and downplayed the significance of what Hughart said.

“We were quite surprised at the reports of Mr. Hughart’s statements at the time of his guilty plea,” Taylor said. “Don Blankenship did not conspire with anybody to do anything illegal or improper. To the contrary, he did everything he could to make Massey’s mines safe.

“We’re not concerned particularly about the story concerning Mr. Hughart,” Taylor said. “It’s not surprising that people say untrue things when they are trying to reduce a possible prison sentence.”

Well, yesterday Blankenship added to what his lawyer had to say. The former Massey CEO has a new post on his “American Competitionist” website and blog. It’s headlined MSHA Carries Out Obama/Roberts Agenda.  At the end, Blankenship has this to say about U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin’s ongoing criminal investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster and Massey:

If they put me behind bars …  it will be political.

And he concludes with this comment about Hughart:

As for Dave Hughart who Cecil cites as a witness and who says I conspired with him to notify miners that inspectors were on mine property – Dave was fired by Massey prior to the UBB explosion for drug use and theft- i.e. basically what he was arrested for. He is expecting to get a reduced sentence for his plea. Maybe he will, but he is not telling the truth about me.

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The Kentucky Darby Disaster, May 20, 2006

Today is the 7th anniversary of the May 20, 2006, explosion that killed five miners at Kentucky Darby LLC’s Darby No. 1 Mine in Harlan County, Ky. The Kentucky Darby Disaster claimed the lives of coal miners Amon Brock, Jimmy Lee, Roy Middleton, George Petra, and Paris Thomas. Injured in the disaster was miner Paul Ledford.

It’s worth noting that, despite the Sago Mine Disaster on Jan. 2, 2006, and the Aracoma Alma fire on Jan. 19 — claiming a total of 14 lives — Congress didn’t pass the MINER Act until after five more miners died at Kentucky Darby.

In its report on the disaster, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration concluded:

An explosion occurred at approximately 1:00 a.m. on May 20, 2006, inby the A Left No. 3 Seal. The explosion resulted in the immediate deaths of two miners who were located at the seal. Three of four miners evacuating from the B Left Section succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning with smoke and soot inhalation.

The accident occurred because the operator did not observe basic mine safety practices and because critical safety standards were violated. Mine management failed to ensure that proper seal construction procedures were utilized in the building of the seals at the A Left Section. Mine management also failed to ensure that safe work procedures were used while employees attempted to make corrections to an improperly constructed seal. Furthermore, mine management failed to adequately train miners in escapeway routes and proper SCSR usage.

Earlier this month, the Courier-Journal in Louisville reported:

Nearly a year after it was fined more than $800,000 for safety violations, K and D Mining Inc. — run by two operators of the Kentucky Darby Mine where five miners died in 2006 — has essentially disappeared and none of the fines have been paid, federal records show.

It’s the latest example of how the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s penalty process is too slow and cumbersome to stop operators from putting miners in danger and fails to deter companies that ignore fines, mine safety advocates say.

“The process of collecting fines from scofflaw operators — rogue operators — is still broken,” said Wes Addington, deputy director of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, a nonprofit firm in Whitesburg, Ky., that represents miners and their families on mine safety and environmental issues. “It really is disappointing.”

The story also noted:

The Courier-Journal reported in April 2012 that Napier and North had not paid nearly $700,000 in civil fines and interest fees for safety violations at Kentucky Darby, which closed.

And by the way, yesterday was the 111th anniversary of the Fraterville Mine Disaster, which killed 216, and the 85th anniversary of the Mather Mine Disaster, which killed 195.

Review confirms black lung at Upper Big Branch

Just out from Howard Berkes at NPR is a piece headlined, Doctors Confirm Black Lung In Victims Of Mine Blast, reporting:

The tragic deaths of 29 coal miners in a has provided new evidence of a resurgence of the disease known as black lung.

On Monday, a team of pathologists and lung disease experts will present the results of from some of the victims of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia. They’ll describe the findings at the American Thoracic Society’s annual conference in Philadelphia this weekend.

“Our pathology — where we actually see the lung tissue, we actually see the scars, we see the dust — confirms we’re seeing a problem,” says , the lead researcher and chairman of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Cook County Health and Hospital System in Illinois.

Specifically:

Cohen’s team reviewed lung tissue obtained from autopsies of seven of the Upper Big Branch victims. Only seven families of the deceased coal miners granted permission for the study.

Six of the seven samples bore telltale scarring that indicates black lung. One of the samples showed a “fairly advanced form of the disease.”

One of the miners worked less than five years underground and several had about 10 years in coal mines. They ranged in age from about 30 to 60. The names and specific information about the miners weren’t disclosed because their families were promised confidentiality.

Cohen says the relatively young ages of some of the miners and limited tenure underground “means that there were probably some intense exposures and excessive exposures over a short period of time. That raises some concerns.”

This new conference presentation paper, available online here, confirms what Davitt McAteer’s independent Upper Big Branch investigation team reported two years ago, and adds to the evidence — including another new scientific report we covered last Sunday in the Gazette-Mail — that black lung remains a serious concern in the coalfields. Yet, as Howard notes in his NPR piece, the Obama administration’s proposals to try to fight black lung remain stalled:

The agency set a target date for next month for a rule-making on its proposal but it’s unclear if that deadline will be met. MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere says, “I have no new information about the dust rule.”

The Ocenco M-20  shown donned and ready for escape.

There’s an update just out from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration about the latest problem with self-contained, self-rescuers that coal miners depend on in case of an underground fire or explosion. Recall that we discussed problems with the Ocenco M-20 in a post last week. At the time, this was pretty much all MSHA had to say about the matter:

MSHA and NIOSH have initiated a joint investigation concerning Ocenco M-20 Self-Contained Self-Rescuers (SCSRs). The investigation began as a result of a malfunction reported to MSHA involving four Ocenco M-20 units manufactured in 2008 and found at one mine. As is usual practice, MSHA and NIOSH are investigating further. MSHA is also contacting mine operators to make sure required tests of SCSRs are being conducted and to assure that any defect, performance problem, or malfunction of an SCSR is reported to MSHA as required.

What we know now is that the issue started with a problem at CONSOL Energy’s Enlow Fork Mine in southwestern Pennsylvania:

Initially, a group of six SCSRs were tested by the mine operator at the Enlow Fork Mine in southwestern Pennsylvania.  The mine operator reported that four units failed to operate properly.  The individual who recorded the test results indicated that one unit expended all of the oxygen upon activation, “… in a matter of seconds.”  He also reported that the other three units did not provide oxygen.  The operator also reported that four more M-20 SCSRs were opened and tested the next day at the mine without any problems.

And according to MSHA:

Additional Ocenco M-20 SCSRs from the mine were tested at NIOSH and at the mine.  Five of six M-20 SCSRs tested at NIOSH on a simulator functioned properly.  The sixth SCSR supplied oxygen for 8 minutes instead of the required 10 minutes.  This unit did not malfunction when refilled at Ocenco and tested on a human subject.  MSHA and NIOSH continue to analyze the results of the simulator test.  With MSHA and NIOSH personnel present at the Enlow Fork Mine, the miner who reported the original malfunctions successfully tested three additional M-20 SCSRs.

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Why coal miners die on the job

This morning, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration made public the report of its investigation into the death last November of a coal miner at the Pocahontas Mine, a Greenbrier County site operated by Alpha Natural Resources’ subsidiary White Buck Coal Co.

Readers may recall that 27-year-old electrician Steve O’Dell of Mt. Nebo was killed when he was pinned between a scoop and a continuing mining machine. The incident happened just as Mr. O’Dell and his wife were expecting the first child to be born in December.

The new MSHA report describes what happened this way:

On Friday, November 30, 2012, at approximately 1:20 a.m., a 27-year-old electrician, Steven A. O’Dell (victim), was fatally injured on the developing No. 2 Section when he was caught between a maintenance scoop and the continuous mining machine. O’Dell was positioned beside the cutting head of the continuous mining machine cleaning bolt holes in preparation for the replacement of the offside cutter drum when the maintenance scoop pinned him against the machine. When the accident occurred, the scoop was traveling battery end first, through the second connecting crosscut outby the face between the No. 6 and 7 entries.

MSHA investigators concluded:

The accident occurred because the sight range and distance of the scoop operator was limited due to the terrain of the mine floor, the type and condition of ventilation controls, and the extraneous material placed on top of the rear portion of the maintenance scoop. The mine operator was not using barriers to prevent mobile equipment from operating near miners conducting maintenance work. The mine operator was not requiring that all miners use personal protective equipment, such as wearable strobe light to increase their visibility.

In describing the scoop, the MSHA report said this:

The maintenance scoop involved in the accident was a Fairchild International Incorporated, Model 35C, Serial Number T339-492-1025. The maintenance scoop was altered significantly when used previously at the Jerry Fork Eagle Mine (Massey Energy Company) and had the following modifications/additions: 1 – Heavy Duty 4 ton Jib Crane, 1 – air compressor with a 60 gallon air tank, 1 – removable 100 gallon hydraulic oil tank, 1 – removable 50 gallon gear oil tank, 1 – grease container, 1 – oxygen/acetylene tank mounts, 1 – storage area which consisted of six assorted lockable tool boxes, a bonder storage area, and 2 – 10 pound portable fire extinguishers.

And in a list of root causes of this death, MSHA investigators included this:

A modification to the maintenance scoop, which included installation of storage boxes, welder (bonder), etc., on the frame of the maintenance scoop, limited the sight distance of the scoop operator.

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The Gazette’s Dr. Paul Nyden had a review in Sunday’s paper of Laurence Leamer’s major new book, “The Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption. ” The book focuses on the Harman Mining/Hugh Caperton lawsuit against Massey.

As most readers of this blog certainly know, that case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and produced a ruling that state Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin was wrong to refuse to step down from Harman Mining’s appeal because of then-Massey CEO Don Blankenship’s funding of a campaign that helped put Benjamin on the court. As Dr. Nyden has already reported, this whole dispute continues in the courts in Virginia.

In his Sunday book review, Dr. Nyden explains:

Leamer tells the story of Pittsburgh lawyers Bruce Stanley, who grew up in Mingo County and worked as a newspaper reporter in Williamson before getting a law degree, and David B. Fawcett, whose father and grandfather were both lawyers. Both work for prominent Pittsburgh firms — Stanley for ReedSmith and Fawcett [first] for Buchanan Ingersoll and now for ReedSmith.

Fawcett and Stanley also previously represented clients in two other lawsuits against Blankenship and Massey.

Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel hired Fawcett to sue Massey after it violated its 10-year contract to supply the company with high-quality metallurgical coal. Instead, Massey began selling its met coal to buyers willing to pay higher prices, exporting much of it to steel producers in foreign countries. After a four-month trial that ended in July 2007, Fawcett won $220 million in damages for Wheeling-Pitt. When the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Massey’s appeal, Massey paid the troubled West Virginia steel company $267 million, including interest.

Stanley sued Massey on behalf of the widows of two coal miners killed during a fire in its Aracoma mine in Logan County. Using government inspection reports and testimony from other miners, Stanley proved Massey had forced its Aracoma miners to work under unsafe conditions. The size of the settlements paid to the widows were never made public.

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Miners facing more problems with SCSRs?

The Ocenco M-20  shown donned and ready for escape.

On the heels of last year’s announced phase-out of the long-troubled CSE Corps. SR-100 model, the last thing coal miners need to hear is that there are more problems with the self-contained self-rescuer devices they rely on to save their lives in the event of an explosion or fire underground. But it sounds like there could be trouble with another company’s units.

Here’s the initial announcement, made in a little-notice post April 19 on the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration website:

MSHA and NIOSH have initiated a joint investigation concerning Ocenco M-20 Self-Contained Self-Rescuers (SCSRs). The investigation began as a result of a malfunction reported to MSHA involving four Ocenco M-20 units manufactured in 2008 and found at one mine. As is usual practice, MSHA and NIOSH are investigating further. MSHA is also contacting mine operators to make sure required tests of SCSRs are being conducted and to assure that any defect, performance problem, or malfunction of an SCSR is reported to MSHA as required.

Then, MSHA followed up with a second post five days later:

On Tuesday, April 23, MSHA and NIOSH observed the manufacturer’s evaluation of the Ocenco M-20 SCSRs which had reportedly malfunctioned. The reported units were refilled and tested by the manufacturer, and did not malfunction when the units were donned. Mine operators should follow Ocenco’s complete instructions for donning M-20 SCSRs when performing the annual tests specified in their Emergency Response Plans (ERPs).

MSHA continues to contact mine operators to determine if any problems have been identified when performing the required annual tests.  Any problems encountered should be reported to MSHA.

So what exactly is going on? Well, good luck finding out.

I’ve been trying for a week now to get answers from MSHA to the following questions:

1. What exactly was the nature of the malfunction? When and where did it occur?

2. How widely used are these models — estimate of the number in service across the country?

3. What is the plan moving forward for looking into this problem?

The Obama administration has so far not provided any answers.  Folks at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health did a little better.  NIOSH spokeswoman Christina Spring provided some answers to those queries:

1. The investigation began as a result of a malfunction reported to MSHA after one mine performed the required annual SCSR evaluations.  On Thursday, April 11th, MSHA verbally informed NPPTL Certification that through their annual evaluation of SCSR performance at one Mine on April 10th, they experienced problems with four OCENCO M20 SCSRs.  At MSHA’s request NIOSH NPPTL picked up the four units on Monday, April 15th. 

2. According to the MSHA inventory, there are approximately 23,000 units fielded in the mines.

 3.  On Tuesday, April 23, MSHA and NIOSH observed the manufacturer’s evaluation of the Ocenco M-20 SCSRs which had reportedly malfunctioned. The reported units were refilled and tested by the manufacturer, and did not malfunction when the units were donned. This was a qualitative assessment that OCENCO wanted to conduct to validate the performance of the units.

A conference call was held on Wednesday 4/25 with MSHA, UMWA, BCOA, and NMA to update the unions on the investigation.  A decision to post the update was made at that time.

MSHA continues to contact mine operators to determine if any problems have been identified when performing the required annual tests.  Any problems encountered should be reported to MSHA.

It is a NIOSH NPPTL priority to complete this investigation soonest, and as is standard procedure, if the alleged malfunction cannot be duplicated or identified in any other units assessed, the alleged malfunction will be documented as an isolated incident.  Through our LTFE program, this alleged malfunction has never been identified.

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Sen. Rockefeller reintroduces mine safety bill

This just in:

Senator Jay Rockefeller today reintroduced his landmark mine safety legislation aimed at fixing the glaring safety issues revealed in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster on April 5, 2010, which claimed the lives of 29 miners in Montcoal, West Virginia. Senator Joe Manchin cosponsored the legislation.

The Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act was first introduced in 2010, and again in 2011 and 2012.

Sen. Rockefeller said:

Since the terrible tragedy at Upper Big Branch more than three years ago, some crucial steps have been taken to improve mine safety, but we are long overdue to make an even bigger leap forward by passing comprehensive mine safety legislation. We owe it to families of the victims at Upper Big Branch, and to the miners of today and tomorrow, to pass mine safety legislation that moves us more strongly ahead. Coal miners’ loved ones give thanks for answered prayers every time they walk through the front door. We should be constantly vigilant for that safe return home. We cannot wait for another tragedy before we act. The time is now.

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CONSOL cited in Blacksville mining death

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has just issued the report on its investigation of the September 2012 death of William Mock, a 61-year-old coal miner killed in a roof fall at CONSOL Energy’s Blacksville No. 2 Mine in Monongalia County, W.Va. Here’s their conclusion:

The accident was caused by the failure to install additional support before load- bearing primary roof support was removed; management’s failure to assure persons removing roof support were located in a safe position; management’s failure to supervise the removal of roof support; management’s failure to examine the roof conditions before permanent support was removed; and, management’s failure to provide task training instructing miners in the safe working procedures of removing permanent roof support and the safety and health aspects of the task.

This is how MSHA describes what happened:

On Thursday, September 13, 2012, the day shift started at 8:00 A.M. William (Bill) Mock and Doug Ice Jr., General Inside Laborers, were assigned by Shift Foreman, Darrel Stewart, to repair the track at various locations along the Main North Haulage. Mock and Ice, along with Rocky Hartley, Supervisor Trainee, had worked together earlier in the week repairing track. However, Hartley was assigned other duties for this shift. Mock and Ice entered the mine shortly after 8:00 A.M., on the Kuhntown elevator. They travelled from the Kuhntown Portal bottom in the No. BT 24 trolley-powered jeep, to the No. 42 block of the Main North Haulage. Mock and Ice began their assigned activities of track repair work, including raising the track and repairing trolley wire hangers. This work was conducted mainly between blocks 42 and 47.

At approximately noon, Mock and Ice received a call over the trolley radio from Frank DeBardi, Dispatcher. Mock was told to call the mine dispatcher’s office using the mine phone. Mock called and talked to Anthony (Tony) DiDomenico, Outby Supervisor. DiDomenico instructed Mock to address a roof bolt and plank in close proximity to the trolley wire on the 117 side of 116 block (see Appendix No. 1). Mock was also instructed to wait until later in the shift because the trolley wire would have to be de-energized, which would prevent travel between Main North Junction and the Wana Portal. During the accident investigation interviews, DiDomenico stated he had been in the area the day before when he noticed the roof bolt and plank were getting too close to the trolley wire. The investigation revealed the area had not been identified during a pre-shift examination of the area and the condition was not recorded as a hazard or violation.

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