Occupational Health News Roundup

After 29 miners were killed by an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine on April 5, the Mine Safety and Health Administration stepped up inspections at 89 coal mines that had poor safety records. Even so, nine workers have been killed working inside mines, and another four using machinery near mine entrances, in the six months since that disaster. The Washington Post’s David Farhrenthold and Kimberly Kindy describe several of the mineworkers’ deaths and explore reasons why increased enforcement hasn’t translated into safer mines:

Trying to explain why repeated federal citations didn’t prevent fatalities, safety experts pointed to the same problems that surfaced after the Upper Big Branch blast. The backlog of appeals cases has grown – clogged by the new citations – meaning that companies can delay payments for years.

…In addition, federal regulators still have trouble using their power to temporarily shut down mines that have a “pattern of violations.” That provision in the law has not been used successfully in 32 years.

Last week, the Mine Safety and Health Administration announced new criteria that could simplify that process. Bills introduced in Congress would expand whistle-blower protections for miners, give the MSHA subpoena power and provide federal regulators with more authority to close unsafe mines. Legislation has stalled on the Senate side.

The Post has short writeups on the deaths of the nine workers who were killed while working inside mines:

  • Thomas N. Brown, 61
  • Michael Carter, 28;
  • Justin Travis, 27;
  • Robie Erwin, 55;
  • Jimmy R. Carmack, 42;
  • Bobby L. Smith, 29
  • Wilbert “Ray” Starcher, 60
  • John King, 28
  • Jessie Adkins, 39

In other news:

Associated Press: A new study by researchers from Columbia University and Harvard University yields a cost estimate of $589 billion – $934 billion for lifetime medical costs and disability payments for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

The Post and Courier (South Carolina): Among the plaintiffs in 43 lawsuits that a US District judge recently ruled could proceed are more than a dozen South Carolina veterans and defense contractors. They’re suing KBR over fume-spewing “burn pits” at Iraq and Afghanistan military bases; the plaintiffs have experienced a range of health problems after exposure to fumes from the pits.

New York Times: The House has passed legislation that would allow for spending a total of $7.4 billion on monitoring and treating injuries related to Ground Zero exposures and setting aside funds to reopen the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Rescue and cleanup workers who received lawsuit-settlement payments would also be allowed to receive compensation from this fund.

Fair Warning: The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will soon release a report on their investigation into conduct by Federal Prison Industries (also known as Unicor), which employs inmates from eight US prisons to recycle electronics. At issue is whether the company is providing appropriate protection for workers who could be exposed to dangerous levels of lead, cadmium, and other harmful substances.

Associated Press: Ambulance drivers in Mogadishu, Somalia responding to calls for victims injured by mortar rounds and artillery shells often risk their own lives while trying to save those of others.