Mine disaster report faults shortcomings of inspectors

29 miners died in Upper Big Branch explosion in 2010
March 6, 2012 2:51 pm

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WASHINGTON -- Federal mine inspectors fell short of their duties to protect miners at Upper Big Branch, where 29 workers were killed in a massive explosion two years ago, according to a report issued today by the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The inspectors failed to inspect some parts of the mine, including areas where the explosion spread, internal investigators found. Inspectors also failed to enforce penalties for Massey Energy's most flagrant violations, didn't identify deficiencies in coal dust clean-up, fell short of recommending proper ventilation, failed to address roof deficiencies, didn't effectively review the mine's record books and allowed the mine operator to delay efforts to reduce miners' exposure to unhealthy silica in coal dust, the report said.

Inspectors found 684 violations in the 18 months leading up to the April 2010 explosion. Internal investigators found that those inspectors failed to act on eight that could have been considered "flagrant," the agency's most serious designation.

Inspectors were dedicated to their work but sometimes failed to

follow agency policies and procedures, some of which were vaguely written, internal investigators found.

They attributed the shortcomings to reduced staffing, inspectors' inexperience, agency management turnover, poor oversight, insufficient training, ineffective use of data and agency directives that exceed what "an employee could reasonably be expected to learn or retain."

The report includes numerous recommendations. Among them were: reducing the allowable amount of combustible content of coal dust; removing outdated material from inspectors' procedural handbooks; and adding a feature on inspection software that automatically flags problems that meet the agency's definition of a potentially flagrant violation.

Previous investigations concluded that worn equipment created a spark, igniting a buildup of methane and coal dust in the mine. Investigators said Massy Energy, which operated the mine, tried to cover up deficiencies.

The mine is now owned by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources.

Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com 703-996-9292.
First Published 2012-03-06 12:52:04

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