Safety blitz at WV Massey Energy mine, 20 instances of aggravated misconduct

The Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Adminstration (MSHA) issued a news release yesterday reporting on the results of an inspection at Inman Energy’s Randolph coal mine, a subsidiary of Massey Energy. MSHA chief Joe Main said:

“the conduct and behavior exhibited when we caught the mine operator by surprise is nothing short of outrageous. …The conditions observed at Randolph Mine place miners at serious risk to the threat of fire, explosion and black lung. Yet, MSHA inspectors can’t be at every mine every day. Our continuing challenge is counteracting the egregious behavior of certain mine operators.”

Retired admiral and former US intelligence official Bobby Ray Inman is chairman of Massey Energy’s Board of Directors, but I’ve not been able to figure out if he has some special affiliation with “Inman Energy” which is identified by MSHA as the mine operator.

In an April 2011 interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Joann Lublin, Inman said he had been told by managers that Massey had the best safety program in the industry. After last April’s disaster at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine, which killed 29 coal miners, he said:

“As we got more deeply into examining our safety performance, we concluded we were not the best.”

He suggested that for the last several months safety audit committees have been reporting directly to the Massey Board of Directors. If that’s the case, one has to wonder what they heard about the Randolph mine and, more importantly, what they did about it. Obviously, not enough if MSHA inspectors found hazards so grave they issued 20 withdrawal orders on April 29, 2011. Ten of these orders to withdraw workers from the mine related to the company’s failure to comply with its own ventilation plan—a problem that also plagued the Upper Big Branch mine.

Because I am a member of the independent investigation examining the UBB disaster, I’ll withhold further commentary on this latest revelation about Massey Energy. I’ll share instead this synopsis of enforcement data for the Randolph mine for the last 12 months. I compiled it using MSHA’s very useful on-line “Data Retrieval System

Over the last year, Inman Energy’s Randolph mine in Boone County, WV, a subsidiary of Massey Energy:

received 338 citations for violations of mandatory safety and health standards;

received citations on 92 different days, at least one every month; and

received proposed penalties for these citations that totalled $421,159.00; 70 of the violations cited have not yet been assessed monetary penalties (primarily those issued in April 2011)

Many of the violations observed by inspectors over the last 12 months relate to disregarding practices that are fundamental to worker safety:

61 violations related to ventilation (an explosion and black lung hazard)

40 violations related to pre-shift, on-shift, and weekly examinations for hazards

29 violations related to inadequate fire suppression & protection and alarms & sensors

28 violations of roof and rib control (a cave-in hazard)

23 violations related to accumulation of coal dust and inadequate rock dusting (an explosion hazard)

10 violations for inadequate maintenance of conveyor belts (a fire hazard)

8 violations related to methane monitors

Inspectors also identified 33 violations related to emergency response, such as problems related to escapeways & maps, self-contained self-rescuers, and refuge chambers.

Of the $421,159 assessed to Inman Energy for the Randolph mine’s violations, the company has paid $36,571 (less than 9 percent of the amount assessed.) As of today, 142 of the 338 citations issued remain in dispute because the company has contested them (a right they have under the Mine Act.) This represents more than $373,000 of the penalties assessed.

Of the citations being contested by the company, 103 of the 142 (or 72.5 percent) were classifed by the inspector as “significant and substantial” (S&S), the category for serious hazards. Of the $421,159 in penalties assessed, 84 percent of them (or $354,958) are for violations classified as S&S.

Like Ken Ward at Coal Tattoo, examine the data at MSHA’s very useful “Data Retrieval System.” The Randolph mine’s ID # is 4609244. Decide for yourself whether the conditions identified by coal mine inspectors are consistent with Massey Energy’s slogan: Safety is Job One.