May 24, 2010

"A ticking time bomb"

Yesterday, the US House Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing in Beckley about Massey's Upper Big Branch mine disaster. Here is Ken Ward's coverage in the Charleston Gazette.

And here is an excerpt from an earlier version of the same article:

Miners and families from the Upper Big Branch Mine on Monday described the Massey Energy operation as "a ticking time bomb," where safety problems were ignored and workers feared losing their jobs if they complained.

"I felt like I was working for the Gestapo at times," said continuous miner operator Stanley Stewart, who was on his way into Upper Big Branch when the April 5 explosion occurred.

Stewart said Massey's Performance Coal Co. repeatedly fixed airflow problems at the mine only well enough to get government inspectors to back off, so the operation could resume producing coal. Last year, Stewart said, the company stripped miners of their summer vacation when Upper Big Branch didn't meet production goals.

"I told my wife, Mindi, 'If anything happens to me, get a lawyer and sue the blankety blank out of them. That place is a ticking time bomb,'" Stewart said.

WV Governor Joe Manchin testified at the hearing as well. Here's his statement and here are parts of it that caught my eye:

You can put a price on a ton of coal, and you can put a price on every piece of machinery in a coal mine, but you cannot put a price on the life of a human being; it is priceless. West Virginia expects employers to prioritize safety ahead of everything else. A person who goes to work each morning to provide a living for themselves and their family should expect nothing less than to return home safely...

There are questions we need answered. Why did serious safety violations repeatedly occur at Upper Big Branch? Were the miners concerned about their safety? Were miners threatened or intimidated from speaking out? If state or federal regulators knew the mine was unsafe, why was it allowed to continue to operate?...

Corporate governance is another issue the state or federal government should address. No one within a corporate or business structure, from top to bottom, should be protected or untouchable under the law if the corporation or business fails to make safety a priority or fails to empower workers to make the workplace as safe as possible.


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