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“West Virginia Senate Bill Eliminates Mine Safety Enforcement”

By Ken Ward Jr. , Staff Writer, Charleston Gazette-Mail

State safety inspectors wouldn’t inspect West Virginia’s coal mines anymore. They would conduct “compliance visits and education.”

Violations of health and safety standards wouldn’t produce state citations and fines, either. Mine operators would receive “compliance assistance visit notices.”

And West Virginia regulators wouldn’t have authority to write safety and health regulations. Instead, they could only “adopt policies … [for] improving compliance assistance” in the state’s mines.

Those and other significant changes in a new industry- backed bill would produce a wholesale elimination of most enforcement of longstanding laws and rules put in place over many years — as a result of hundreds of deaths — to protect the health and safety of West Virginia’s coal miners.

Opponents are furious about the proposed changes but also fearful that backers of the bill could easily have the votes to push through any language they want. Longtime mine safety experts and advocates are shocked at the breadth of the attack on current authorities of the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training and the Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety.

“It’s breathtaking in its scope,” said mine safety expert Davitt McAteer, who ran the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration and led a team that called for strengthening — not weakening — the state’s mine safety efforts after the deaths of 29 miners at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine just seven years ago next month.

Senate Bill 582 is billed as legislation “relating generally to coal mining, coal mining safety and environmental protection.”

Various lobbyists and advocates, even many lawmakers, are still trying to sort out and understand its many provisions, which range from language rewriting the state’s program for holding mine operators responsible for cleaning up abandoned strip mines and properly classifying streams that are trout waters to consolidating existing state mine safety boards into one panel and creating a new mandate for state-funded mine rescue teams.

A legislative committee lawyer indicated that some provisions intended for the bill didn’t make it into the initial text, including a rewrite of language in water quality standards that has been the subject of much litigation aimed at reducing water pollution from large-scale surface mines. Those provisions would have to be amended into the bill or added through a committee substitute, the lawyer said.

The heart of the legislation is a section that simply eliminates the ability of state mine safety office inspectors to issue notices of violation or levy fines for mine operators or coal companies for any safety hazards unless they can prove there is an “imminent danger” of death or serious physical harm.

Language in the bill offers somewhat confusing answers about what inspectors would do if they found imminent danger. One part of the bill maintains the current law, which says that inspectors must issue an order to pull all miners out of the affected part of the mine until the hazard is corrected. Another section, though, refers to a new type of process involving a “notice of correction,” that appears to carry no monetary penalty.

One thing that is clear is that the bill would maintain and encourage the use of “individual personal assessments,” which target specific mine employees — rather than mine operators or coal companies — for violations, fines and, possibly, revocation of certifications or licenses needed to work in the industry. In addition, the requirement for four inspections every year for each underground coal mine would be reduced to one compliance assistance visit for each of those mines.

And, the bill would require that, by Aug. 31, the state rewrite all of its coal mine safety standards so that, instead of longstanding and separate state rules, mine operators would be responsible for following only U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration regulations. The list of areas covered by this provision includes electrical standards, mine ventilation, roof control, safety examinations, dust control and explosives.

“It completely guts the state law,” said Josh Roberts, international health and safety director for the United Mine Workers union. “You’re taking back decades of laws.”

Roberts and McAteer agreed that the notion of deferring almost all state mine safety standards to the federal government is especially concerning, given the promises made by President Donald Trump to remove regulations the coal industry says have been hampering production and employment. McAteer noted that West Virginia led the nation in coal-mining deaths last year and has had two deaths already in 2017.

“It is shocking that, after all these years and the numbers of West Virginians who have died in the mines, for the state to even consider this,” McAteer said Monday, after reviewing the legislation. “The state needs to be involved in making sure we are protecting our citizens. This should be one of the primary goals of the state government.”

Word that the coal industry was planning to have one of its supporters in the Legislature drop such a bill has been circulating since the start of the session in early February.

Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said Tuesday that he isn’t sure that his organization fully supports the reduced enforcement authority spelled out in the legislation.

Asked if that meant the industry feels the bill goes too far, Hamilton said, “We’re okay with it the way the bill is, but we just think it can be tweaked and maybe improved on.”

Hamilton said federal inspectors spend plenty of time at West Virginia’s coal mines and that having state inspectors doing the same thing is duplicative.

The current version of the bill was introduced during a Senate session on Saturday. The lead sponsor is Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker. Smith chairs the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee and is employed as a safety manager for Mettiki Coal. Officials from Mettiki’s parent corporation, Alliance Resource Partners, were major contributors to Smith’s campaign. Alliance bills itself as the second-largest Eastern U.S. coal producer. Its Mettiki arm operates a large underground mine in Tucker County.

On Tuesday, with a near-packed committee room full of industry officials and some rank-and-file coal miners, and with the legislation on the agenda, Smith announced that he was sending the bill to a three-person subcommittee that would be chaired by EIM Committee Vice Chairman Dave Sypolt, R-Preston. Other subcommittee members will be Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, and Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, Smith said.

In an interview, Smith said he doesn’t necessarily support all provisions of the bill he introduced. For example, he said he doesn’t really support taking away so much of the state mine safety office’s enforcement power.

See the rest of the story: http://www.wvgazettemail.com/news-politics/20170314/wv-senate-bill-eliminates-mine-safety-enforcement#sthash.A8oevOgJ.dpuf

Source: Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

More Information:

Map: West Virginia Leads Nation in Coal Mining Deaths Since 2004

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“MSHA Awards $1 Million Dollars In 2016 Brookwood-Sago Training Grants”

Funding will foster mine rescue training, mine emergency preparedness

ARLINGTON, Va. – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration announced today it has awarded $1 million to six organizations to develop training programs and materials that support mine rescue and mine emergency preparedness for underground mines.

A provision in the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 established the Brookwood-Sago grant program to promote mine safety while honoring the 25 men who died in Brookwood, Alabama, in 2001 at the Jim Walter Resources #5 mine, and in Buchannon, West Virginia, in 2006 at the Sago Mine.

The recipients of the 2016 grants are as follows:

–The Colorado School of Mines in Golden is receiving $240,024 in funding to provide quality training to mine rescue teams. The training will focus on enhancing the knowledge and skills for mine rescue teams and incident command staff in the areas of technical rescue, communications and decision making during mine emergencies.

Rend Lake College in Ina, Illinois, is receiving $133,240 in funding to provide training to mine rescue officials and mine rescue teams, with a focus on mine fire brigade training and increased preparedness for those participating for mine emergencies.

–The Colorado Department of Natural Resources in Denver is receiving $217,877 in funding to provide advanced mine rescue skills training for all underground mines and mine emergency prevention in Colorado.

–The University of Arizona in Tucson is receiving $187,054 in funding to improve self-escape skills in response to underground mine emergency events by use of virtual reality gaming.

–The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy in Big Stone Gap is receiving $50,000 in funding to develop training materials and provide training on mine emergency preparedness and mine emergency prevention.

West Virginia University in Morgantown is receiving $171,805 in funding to foster the development and implementation of enhanced and realistic mine rescue training exercises that combine the efforts and abilities of a mine rescue team and fire brigade responding to a simulated coal mine fire emergency and locating missing personnel.

# # #

Media Contact:

Amy Louviere, 202-693-9423, louviere.amy@dol.gov

Release Number: 16-1974-NAT

“MSHA Launches Enhanced Safety Standards Enforcement To Encourage Better Examinations By Industry’s Operators”

MSHAlogo_0

Heightened focus starts July 1 in effort to protect miners, prevent fatalities  

ARLINGTON, Va. – On July 1, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration will begin enhanced enforcement of “Rules to Live By,” its initiative of standards commonly cited following mine deaths, and nine underground coal mine exam rule standards focused on the greatest risks to miners in underground coal mines. The agency announced these measures on May 12, 2016, at a mining industry stakeholder meeting in Arlington.

“While we’ve seen progress in reducing mining deaths associated with both Rules to Live By and the exam rule, mine operators need to conduct better site inspections and take appropriate action to improve compliance with these standards,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “That is why we are increasing attention on these critical standards. We urge the mining industry to do the same.”

An agency analysis of hundreds of U.S. mining fatalities in a 10-year period shows that fatalities associated with Rules to Live By standards have decreased an average of 23 percent, and significant and substantial citations and orders issued for violations of these standards have declined an average of 37 percent.

Fatalities associated with the exam rule have decreased an average of 22 percent, and S&S citations and orders issued for violations of this standard have declined an average of 45 percent.

Beginning July 1, MSHA will employ its web-based Rules to Live By and exam rule calculators more extensively to determine the number of citations and orders issued during the most recent completed inspection periods for which data are available. Inspectors will provide mine operators with a copy of the results, encouraging them to use the tools to monitor their own compliance and take action to eliminate violations. The results will be added to criteria for consideration of impact inspections, particularly targeting mines with elevated noncompliance of these standards.

MSHA launched its Rules to Live By outreach and enforcement initiative in 2010. The agency published its exam rule in 2012.

# # #

Media Contact:

Amy Louviere, 202-693-9423, louviere.amy@dol.gov

Release Number: 16-1295-NAT

MSHA Announces Results of July Impact Inspections

MSHA News Release: [08/29/2012]
Contact Name: Amy Louviere
Phone Number: (202) 693-9423
Release Number: 12-1757-NAT

MSHA announces results of July impact inspections

ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. Department of Labor‘s Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that federal inspectors issued 262 citations, 19 orders and three safeguards during special impact inspections conducted at eight coal mines and five metal/nonmetal mines last month.

The monthly inspections, which began in force in April 2010 following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns, including high numbers of violations or closure orders; frequent hazard complaints or hotline calls; plan compliance issues; inadequate workplace examinations; a high number of accidents, injuries or illnesses; fatalities; and adverse conditions such as increased methane liberation, faulty roof conditions and inadequate ventilation.

As an example from last month, MSHA conducted an impact inspection on July 17 at Rebco Coal Inc.’s Valley Mine No. 1 during the day shift. MSHA personnel captured and monitored the communication systems to prevent advance notification of the inspection. MSHA issued 54 citations and nine orders on the day of the inspection, followed by five more 104(b) withdrawal orders for the operator’s failure to abate the outstanding violations.

Inspectors found violations related to inadequate examinations, the mine’s ventilation plan and the maintenance of electric equipment. The operator failed to conduct pre-shift examinations of the belt conveyor entry prior to miners working and traveling in the area, as well as adequate on-shift examinations of the belt conveyor entries. Inspectors also found that the operator did not properly maintain electric face equipment and failed to conduct adequate electrical examinations. These cited conditions were extensive, having existed over several weekly electrical examinations, and posed serious dangers to miners.

The continuous mining machine was found cutting coal on the wrong side in conflict with the approved ventilation plan, and the area had only a third of the required amount of ventilation. Several water sprays on the machine were functioning with only half of the required water pressure, and the ventilation curtain used was not properly placed. Proper ventilation and controls for methane and respirable coal mine dust must be in place to prevent mine explosions and black lung disease.

Inspectors issued a failure-to-abate order during the impact inspection because the operator had not removed accumulations of combustible materials such as empty rock dust bags, empty wooden pallets, garbage in three crosscuts along the intake roadway and small trash piles at various crosscuts along the intake. The accumulation of the combustible materials standard has been cited 24 times in a two-year period at this mine. Five other failure-to-abate orders were issued because the operator had not corrected violations on the roof bolting machine’s automated temporary roof support systems, section power center, roof bolter and fire suppression systems. Inspectors also observed two faulty circuit breakers and a broken receptacle latch on the power center, and six defects on the roof bolter. This impact inspection was the second conducted by MSHA at this mine which, effective Aug. 10, entered into nonproducing status.

“Mine operators have an obligation under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act to conduct thorough examinations of workplaces and equipment to find and fix hazards to protect miners,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “A failure to do so can expose miners to injury, illness and death. MSHA takes these failures to comply seriously and, on Aug. 6, issued new rules requiring more thorough operator examinations.”

As a second example from last month, MSHA conducted another impact inspection on July 17 at Cobalt Coal Corp. Mining Inc.’s Westchester Mine in McDowell County, W.Va. The inspection party captured the phones to prevent advance notice of the inspection. Inspectors issued 47 enforcement actions, including one imminent danger order, 39 citations, six unwarrantable failure orders and one safeguard. This impact inspection was the mine’s first.

An imminent danger order was issued when stray electrical current was detected on the frame of the section power center and the no. 2 shuttle car. The operator was cited for failing to maintain the underground electrical system in a safe operating condition. In total, 15 citations and orders were issued for not maintaining face equipment in permissible condition, as well as violations relating to electric equipment, trailing cables, grounding and underground high voltage distribution. The stray electrical current and other cited hazards could have electrocuted or seriously injured miners.

Westchester Mine also failed to conduct weekly examinations on the roof bolter, complete the examination of the conveyor belt in its entirety, and perform adequate examinations of the alternate escapeway between the belt drive and the working section. The inspectors observed hazardous conditions on the directional lifeline and tripping/stumbling hazards in the walkway directly under the lifeline. These conditions should have been discovered during examinations and then corrected to provide miners with safe passage in the alternate escapeway during a mine emergency and while working underground.

The operator also was cited for violations of standards covering roof and rib control, fire suppression and ventilation. Of 17 ventilation violations, one was not following the approved ventilation/methane dust control plan where the air quantity in the last open crosscut was approximately one-fourth of what is required. Inspectors found water accumulation up to 11 inches deep in the primary intake escapeway for a distance of 40 feet in an area with a mining height of 58 inches. These conditions, if left uncorrected, affect the effectiveness of the mine’s ventilation system to control and remove methane, respirable dust and other contaminants from the miners’ working environment.

Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 477 impact inspections, which have resulted in a total of 8,545 citations, 852 orders and 36 safeguards.

Editor’s note: A spreadsheet containing the results of impact inspections in July 2012 accompanies this news release.

MSHA’s ‘Examinations’ Rule For Underground Coal Mines Effective August 6, 2012

 

ERegulation requires mine operators to identify and correct hazardous conditions

ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. Department of Labor‘s Mine Safety and Health Administration‘s final rule “Examinations of Work Areas in Underground Coal Mines for Violations of Mandatory Health or Safety Standards,” which was published April 6, 2012, in the Federal Register, becomes effective today. The rule requires mine operators to identify and correct hazardous conditions and violations of nine health and safety standards that pose the greatest risk to miners, including the kinds of conditions that led to the deadly explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in April 2010.

“Effective pre-shift, supplemental, on-shift and weekly examinations are the first line of defense to protect miners working in underground coal mines,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

After analyzing its accident reports and enforcement data for underground coal mines covering a five-year period, MSHA determined that the same types of violations of health or safety standards are found by MSHA inspectors in underground coal mines every year, and that these violations present some of the most unsafe conditions for coal miners.

“These repeated violations expose miners to unnecessary safety and health risks that should be found and corrected by mine operators. The final rule, effective today, will increase the identification and correction of unsafe conditions in mines earlier, removing many of the conditions that could lead to danger, and improve protection for miners in underground coal mines,” said Main.

The rule requires that, during pre-shift, supplemental, on-shift and weekly examinations, underground coal mine operators, in addition to examining for hazardous conditions as in the existing regulations, examine for violations of the nine specific health and safety standards. The rule also requires operators to record the actions taken to correct hazardous conditions, as in the existing regulations, and violations of the nine standards. Additionally, operators must review with mine examiners, on a quarterly basis, citations and orders issued in areas where pre-shift, supplemental, on-shift and weekly examinations are required.

The nine standards address ventilation, methane, roof control, combustible materials, rock dust, equipment guarding and other safeguards. They are consistent with the standards emphasized in MSHA’s Rules to Live By initiative and the types of violations cited in MSHA’s accident investigation report on the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion as contributing to the cause of that deadly accident. MSHA launched Rules to Live By, an outreach and enforcement program designed to strengthen efforts to prevent mining fatalities, in February 2010.

In 2011, MSHA issued approximately 158,000 violations, of which approximately 77,000 were attributable to underground coal mines, even though these mines represent just 4 percent of all mines.

 

MSHA Announces Results of June Impact Inspections

 

MSHA News Release: [07/31/2012]
Contact Name: Amy Louviere
Phone Number: (202) 693-9423
Release Number: 12-1552-NAT

MSHA announces results of June impact inspections

Mine placed on pattern of violations in 2011 is one of targeted operations

ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. Department of Labor‘s Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that federal inspectors issued 177 citations, 22 orders and one safeguard during special impact inspections conducted at nine coal mines and three metal/nonmetal mines last month.

The monthly inspections, which began in force in April 2010 following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns, including high numbers of violations or closure orders; frequent hazard complaints or hotline calls; plan compliance issues; inadequate workplace examinations; a high number of accidents, injuries or illnesses; fatalities; and adverse conditions such as increased methane liberation, faulty roof conditions and inadequate ventilation.

As an example from last month, MSHA conducted an impact inspection on June 21 during the second shift at Bledsoe Coal Corp.’s Abner Branch Rider Mine in Leslie County, Ky. Inspectors immediately seized and monitored the mine’s communications systems to ensure that advance notification was not provided to the miners underground.

The 19 citations and 12 withdrawal orders inspectors issued as a result of violations found effectively shut down the entire mine for eight days. Violations included accumulations of combustible materials in the motor compartment of a utility vehicle located in the primary escapeway; accumulations of loose coal, coal dust, black float coal dust and hydraulic oil on the roof bolting machine, along the mine floor and against the ribs; and an improperly functioning methane monitor, which did not provide a warning or de-energize the mechanized mining unit when necessary. MSHA also cited the operator for defective, bare electrical wires and inadequate splices on the utility vehicle in the primary escapeway. If left uncorrected, these conditions could spark a methane ignition, which, combined with inadequate rockdusting, could cause or contribute to a coal dust explosion.

Additionally, the mine operator did not provide adequate roof/rib control and failed to follow the mine’s approved roof control plan. The operator also failed to identify, record and correct the absence of mesh that would prevent the fall of sections of the mine’s ribs and roof.

On April 12, 2011, MSHA had issued a pattern of violations notice to the Abner Branch Rider Mine, one of only two mines ever to receive such a notice. Since then, the mine has been issued 53 orders.

Last month’s impact inspection was the third conducted at the Abner Branch Rider Mine. The mine’s operations returned to normal on June 29 after the violations were abated and the withdrawal orders terminated.

“The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act requires operators to provide a safe workplace, and that includes finding and fixing hazards in order to keep miners from getting injured or killed. If operators ignore that responsibility and leave it to MSHA to find their problems, they should know that MSHA will use the full force of the law — including closure orders — to protect the nation’s miners,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

“It is clear that, in the case of Abner Branch, a mine already on a pattern of violations, all of MSHA’s tools may not be enough. But until that changes, we will use what we have and aggressively enforce the law to ensure men and women who go into a mine at the beginning of a shift can come back out at the end of it.”

As a second example from last month, MSHA personnel conducted an impact inspection on June 20 at Tunnel Ridge LLC’s Tunnel Ridge Mine in Ohio County, W.Va., during the evening shift. The inspection party secured the mine’s phones to prevent advance notice of the inspection. MSHA issued 34 enforcement actions, including 29 citations and five unwarrantable failure orders. This impact inspection was the second of the Tunnel Ridge Mine.

An unwarrantable failure order was issued for failure to maintain the intake escapeway on the longwall section from the mine’s working face. The escapeway was obstructed with mud and water up to 15 inches deep for a distance of 300 feet. A subsequent order was issued for the mine operator’s failure to identify this hazardous condition during the preshift examination. By not recognizing and recording this hazard, the mine operator placed miners at risk of not having a safe way to exit the mine.

The mine operator also was cited for failing to conduct required methane tests at each working face. The Tunnel Ridge Mine has a history of methane liberation. Failure to perform adequate methane checks during the mining and roof bolting cycle could allow an unknown quantity of methane gas to accumulate without miners’ knowledge and lead to a possible methane ignition.

An additional order was issued for the mine operator’s failure to conduct an adequate preshift examination of the section. Conducting proper examinations and correcting hazardous conditions are essential to protect the health and safety of miners. Inadequate examinations allow miners to remain in areas where hazardous conditions may exist which, if left uncorrected, expose miners to the risk of severe injuries, illnesses or death.

Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 464 impact inspections, which have resulted in a total of 8,283 citations, 833 orders and 33 safeguards.

Editor’s note: A spreadsheet containing the results of impact inspections in June 2012 accompanies this news release.

64 Percent Of U.S. Mines Lack Communications Gear: MSHA

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. coal mine operators remain well short of meeting a 5-year-old congressional mandate to equip underground mines with high-tech systems for communicating to the surface and tracking the movements of miners, a federal official said.

The figures show 64 percent of more than 500 underground coal mines don’t have the required equipment, Mine Safety and Health Administration official Dave Chirdon told The Associated Press on Thursday. Chirdon was to release the numbers at an industry conference Friday in West Virginia.

The equipment now required is supposed to keep near constant track of miners from the moment they head underground, and enable them to communicate with the surface even after an explosion.

Massey Energy Co. had some of its system installed at its Upper Big Branch mine at the time of the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 men. Regulators have said the blast destroyed the system, rendering it unusable during a nearly weeklong search for some of the victims.

The numbers show 192 out of 529 mines across the country lacked a full set of equipment as of February. Most, however, have done part of the work.

“We’re expecting them all to be compliant by June 15,” Chirdon said. “The other 64 percent aren’t starting from scratch.”

The numbers are far higher than 2010. At the time, just 34 of 529 mines, or 6.4 percent, were in compliance, Chirdon said.

Mines that miss the June 15 deadline face unspecified enforcement action, MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere said.

The mandate was imposed after the January 2006 deaths of 12 miners trapped at West Virginia’s Sago Mine following an explosion. Rescuers couldn’t contact them, nor did they know where to look for them.

Massey Safety Chief Indicted In Mine Disaster Probe

Federal agents arrested a Massey Energy chief of security Monday on charges of lying to the FBI and obstructing the criminal investigation into last year’s deadly mine disaster in West Virginia.

Hughie Elbert Stover, 60, of Clear Fork, W.Va., was indicted on Feb. 25. The indictment is the first in the mine disaster investigation and was unsealed after Stover’s arrest Monday.

An ambulance arrives on the scene on April 10, 2010, after an explosion at Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. Twenty-nine workers died in the blast. 

Bob Bird/AP – An ambulance arrives on the scene on April 10, 2010, after an explosion at Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. Twenty-nine workers died in the blast.

 

Stover supervised security at several Massey Energy coal mines, including the Upper Big Branch mine, where 29 mineworkers died in a massive explosion in April 2010.

The indictment accuses Stover of lying to federal agents about an apparent systematic effort to deceive federal mine safety inspectors.

“Stover had himself directed and trained security guards at … Upper Big Branch Mine to give advance notice” of unannounced federal inspections, the indictment says.

Stover and his guards used a special radio frequency to warn miners underground when inspectors arrived at the mine. That gave the miners the chance to mask or fix serious safety problems and avoid citations, fines and closure orders.

As NPR has reported, former Massey miners and federal mine inspectors have described this inspection dodge before.

Stover told federal agents, the indictment says, that Massey had “a practice and policy dating back to at least 1999 that forbade security guards at the Upper Big Branch mine from giving advance notice of an inspection.” That was a firing offense, Stover claimed.

But the indictment says those statements were “false, fictitious and fraudulent.”

Stover is also accused of directing the disposal of thousands of pages of security-related documents in a company trash compactor at the Upper Big Branch Mine “with the intent to impede, obstruct, and influence” the mine disaster investigation.

This conduct “threatens our effort to find out what happened at Upper Big Branch,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin in a prepared statement. “This inquiry is simply too important to tolerate any attempt to hinder it.”

The alleged actions by Stover also trouble Davitt McAteer, who was appointed by former West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin to conduct an independent investigation of the disaster’s cause.

McAteer asks, “Were laws violated? Were regulations disregarded? And were shortcuts taken” before the explosion?

“I think this indictment suggests perhaps they were,” McAteer adds.

Massey Energy issued a statement that did not respond to the inspection deception allegation. But Shane Harvey, the company’s vice president and general counsel, said Massey “takes this matter very seriously and is committed to cooperating with the U.S. attorney’s office.”

Harvey claimed that Massey “notified the U.S. attorney’s office within hours of learning that documents had been disposed of and took immediate steps to recover documents and turn them over to the U.S. attorney’s office.”

Melvin Smith, a spokesman for Goodwin, declined to comment on Harvey’s claim. But Smith did refer to this statement in the indictment: “These documents were later recovered after the federal government inquired about their existence in the course of its investigation …”

The indictment says the documents were recovered.

NPR’s attempts to reach Stover for comment were unsuccessful. His attorney, former U.S. Attorney William Wilmoth, tells NPR he has “no comment this early in the case.”

Stover was released on bail, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Charleston. An arraignment is scheduled for March 15.

A spokeswoman for the Mine Safety and Health Administration declined to comment.

Copy of Indictment: http://media.npr.org/documents/2011/feb/massey-stover-indictment.pdf

ASSE to Congress: Shuttering OSHA, MSHA Programs Would be a Mistake

The American Society of Safety Engineers said it generally supports the administration’s FY 2011 budget for OSHA and MSHA but urges Congressional leaders to ensure the funds are used to fulfill OSHA’s mission by restoring funding for the agency’s Voluntary Protection Program and MSHA’s Educational Policy and Development.

In his May 28 letter to the Senate and House Committees on Appropriations’ Subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Chairmen Senator Thomas Harkin and Representative David Obey, ASSE President C. Christopher Patton, CSP, outlined ASSE’s positions on the administration’s budget, including opposition to the elimination of OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) funding.

“ASSE members are deeply concerned that the VPP has been eliminated from the proposed budget and request that full funding be restored to FY2010 levels,” Patton wrote. “We support Sen. Enzi’s amendment and Senate budget resolution to the budget to restore that funding. The VPP has made significant contributions to cooperative safety management in many workplaces.”

Other areas of the OSHA budget Patton noted are enforcement, safety and health standards, state plans, and training grants. ASSE is concerned that the increase for OSHA enforcement is coming at the cost of reducing educational efforts, training, and consultation — the elimination of VPP.

“OSHA needs to bring more attention to the worst actors among employers, but not at the expense of encouraging employers to be as good as they can be in managing occupational safety and health,” Patton said.

ASSE also urged the Committees to find a better way for OSHA to promulgate appropriate standards more quickly and reasonably, noting there are several very important workplace rules in various stages of development that, when completed, will help prevent injuries and illnesses in the workplace. ASSE said it also is disappointed that the budget calls for a minimal increase in the budget for the 27 state OSHA plans, noting the current financial stress states are in.

Patton said ASSE supports the administration’s budget request for MSHA for FY2011, which reflects a $3.5 million increase from FY2010. He noted, “Mining fatalities have totaled 39 deaths in the last five months. Given these recent tragedies, if Congress determines that MSHA needs even more resources to address the needs for enforcement and training of inspectors, ASSE could support appropriate funding increases. MSHA faces many challenges, such as enforcement of underground communication equipment, the ‘pattern of violation’ issue, and improving consistency in interpreting standards.”

However, Patton urged the administration to change course on plans to shut down the Small Mines Office (SMO), a part of MSHA’s Educational Policy Development component. “SMO compliance assistance has helped small mine operators provide safer and healthier work environments, boost compliance, and experience smoother inspections because the operation and workforce are better prepared,” he wrote.

In 2009, 35 U.S. miners lost their lives, and in 2010 39 miners have died. ASSE believes an MSHA funding increase will help save lives and urges support for the administration’s request for an increase in funding and restoration to FY 2010 budget levels of funding for the MSHA Educational Policy and Development.

“Workplace safety and health impacts every American as well as the ability of every employer to compete in an increasingly competitive global marketplace,” Patton said. “ASSE urges these committees not to compromise on funding for OSHA and MSHA so that their efforts can succeed in better protecting workers and helping employers succeed.”

Massey Mines: Serious Problems Have Been Found Since Explosion Killed 29 Miners

Federal inspectors have found more than 60 serious safety violations at Massey Energy operations since the explosion that killed 29 miners, adding to fallout from the disaster that includes a wrongful death lawsuit by one of the men’s widows.

Inspectors visited more than 30 underground Massey coal mines in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia after the April 5 blast, according to records from the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The agency has tentatively blamed preventable accumulations of explosive methane gas and coal dust for the worst U.S. coal mining disaster since 1970.

The miner’s widow accuses the company of a history of safety violations that amount to negligence in the first wrongful death lawsuit over the explosion, which she filed Thursday.

Investigators were reviewing records from the site of the blast and waiting for dangerous gases to be ventilated before going underground at the Upper Big Branch mine. It will probably be another week until investigators can safely go in, MSHA Administrator Kevin Stricklin said.

To tally violations at other Massey sites, The Associated Press checked inspection records for all of the company’s approximately 70 underground coal mines in the U.S. from April 5 through Thursday. Mines operated by other companies also were inspected during the same period.

Stricklin said the MSHA hasn’t been disproportionately targeting Massey since the blast, nor has it increased the pace of inspections. He did say inspectors have responded to hazard complaints at two Massey mines.

“We’re just going about our regular business,” Stricklin said. “I didn’t give any instructions to go and look at Massey mines.”

Still, Stricklin sharply criticized the company for violations found in the last 10 days.

The violations include conveyor belt problems at Massey’s Aracoma Alma No. 1 mine in West Virginia, where a belt fire killed two men in 2006.

“I’m very disappointed,” Stricklin said. “You would think that personnel associated with Massey would be really more careful.”

The company’s Solid Energy No. 1 mine in Kentucky was cited for allowing coal dust to pile up on three occasions since the explosion.

“That’s very troubling,” Stricklin said. “Pitiful.”

Mines are required to keep methane well below explosive levels with sophisticated ventilation systems and control coal dust by keeping it from piling up and covering it with noncombustible material.

Stricklin has told district managers to look more closely at all mine ventilation systems and the buildup of methane, and to move rock dusting surveys to the front end of the quarterly inspection.

Stricklin said he was embarrassed the industry wasn’t able to prevent the Upper Big Branch tragedy.

“An explosion of this magnitude basically sends us back 40 years. All explosions are preventable,” he said.

Massey is facing its first wrongful death lawsuit over the blast, filed by Marlene Griffith in Raleigh County Circuit Court. The lawsuit also targets Performance Coal, the Massey subsidiary that operated the underground mine.

The lawsuit claims Massey’s handling of working conditions at the mine, plus its history of safety violations, amounted to aggravated conduct that rises above the level of ordinary negligence.

Griffith and her husband, William Griffith, were planning to celebrate their 33rd wedding anniversary April 30, the lawsuit said.

Mark Moreland, a Charleston lawyer representing Griffith, said that William Griffith was concerned about safety in the mine and had avoided serious injury during a rock fall there a week before his death.

“He told his wife on more than one occasion that if anything happened to him in that mine, that she needed to get a lawyer,” Moreland said Friday.

Massey did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday on the lawsuits or the violations.

The West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training started its own safety sweep of the state’s nearly 200 underground mines Friday. Administrator Terry Farley declined to say whether the agency is targeting Massey.

MSHA issued the recent citations while conducting spot checks and routine inspections at the Massey operations.

Agency records show the problems were not universal; several Massey mines weren’t cited at all after the inspections.

Among those that came up clean is Massey’s Tiller No. 1 mine in Virginia. Federal inspectors had warned Massey to improve safety at the mine last fall or face heightened enforcement for a pattern of serious violations.

President Barack Obama has ordered a sweeping review of coal mines with poor safety records and called for stronger mining laws.

Mines in West Virginia were asked to stop producing coal Friday and concentrate on safety in memory of the Upper Big Branch victims.

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