Miners' Deaths and Deadbeat Operators

Mr. Robert Carey, 45, an athracite coal miner from Shamokin, Pennsylvania was killed on Monday by falling rock/coal at the Harmony Mine.  So far this year, 26 workers at U.S. mining operations have died on-the-job.  Just this past Sunday, former MSHA chief J. Davitt McAteer had an Op-Ed in the Charleston Gazette entitled: "Enough: No More Mining Deaths."   He wrote:

"It is time to stop killing our children, husbands, brothers and sons in the name of mining."

The 26 deceased men were working at mining operations in the following states: Alabama (2), California (2), Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky (3), Missouri, Nevada (2), New York, Pennsylvania (4), Texas (2), Virginia, West Virginia (4), and Wisconsin.  Seventeen of the 26 deaths occurred at surface mining operations.

McAteer, a father of five including a teenage son, was incensed by the May 30 death of 18 year old Adam Lanham at Int'l Coal Group's* Sentinel Mine:

This young man's death "...is so revolting that it should shock the mining industry and the community at large."

McAteer shares his views on mining industry attitudes and practices which increase miners' risk of injury and death.  He notes for example,

"...while the coal mining industry is at record levels of profitability, many continue to resist safety and health legislation designed to prevent injury, illness and death"

and

"...many companies, rather than attempting to improve safety and compliance with the Federal law, aggressively challenge its application.  ...Today, the industry contests 25 percent of citations issued, and 15 companies have contested virtually every citation that MSHA inspectors have issued in the last six months."

Well, well.  So who are these mine operators who don't comply with rules designed to protect miners from injury, illness and death, and then when busted, manage to find the resources to challenge all or most of them?

According to data posted on MSHA's website, the following mine operators have contest 90% or more of citations issued by federal mine inspectors for the 6-month period Oct 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008:

  • Robert E. Murray, Andalex (coal) Resources, 100% of 99 citations
  • Robert E. Murray, West Ridge Resources, 99% of 166 citations
  • Robert E. Murray, KenAmerican Resources, 90% of 210 citations
  • Massey Energy, Aracoma Coal Co., 100% of 330 citations
  • Barber & Sons Aggregate (Missouri), 100% of 90 citations
  • John C Lawrence, Bear River Zeolite (Idaho), 100% of 46 citations
  • James C Justice II, Bluestone Coal, 100% of 57 citations
  • James C Justice II, Pay Car Mining, 90% of 58 citations
  • Wm P Moore & Philip E Tearney, Continental Coal, 100% of 62 citations
  • James H Booth, Eagle Coal Company, 100% of 55 citations
  • James H Booth, Matrix Energy, 100% of 73 citations
  • James H Booth, Mayo Resources, 100% of 38 citations
  • Ben Bennett, Manalapan Mining, 100% of 566 citations
  • Stephens Holding Inc., Stephens MDS (Aggregate)(Georgia), 100% of 75 citations
  • Alpha Natural Resources, Brooks Run Mining, 99% of 271 citations
  • Mittal-Stelco/Cleveland Cliffs, Hibbing Taconite, 98% of 116 citations
  • Barrick Gold Corp, Barrick Goldstrike Mine (Nevada), 97% of 115 citations
  • Newmont (Gold) Mining, Newmont Midas (Nevada), 97% of 119 citations
  • Patriot Coal Corp, Ohio County Coal, 93% of 114 citations
  • Gary E Peyton, Pleasant View (Coal) Mining Co., 95% of 113 citations
  • Willis Ring, R&R Mining (Coal), 94% of 82 citations
  • Jack H Ealy, Rex Coal Co, 92% of 158 citations

The authors of the Mine Act obviously recognized that reasonable persons from time-to-time might disagree about the application of a safety standard or the timeframe necessary to abate a hazard.  That's what the right of contest extended to mine operators AND miners' reps is all about.  I don't think, however, the authors of the Act imagined that mine operators would construe this "due process" protection into acts of obstruction of safety and health protections for mine workers.  I'm all for due process, but angered by employers who distort due process to game the system set up to protect workers' fundamental right to a safe workplace.

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*Note: *International Coal Group (ICG) was the operator of the now abandoned WV Sago Mine were 12 miners died in January 2006.

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Celeste Monforton, MPH is with George Washington University School of Pubic Health.  She was Davitt McAteer's special assistant from 1996 through 2000, and continues to work with him from time to time on special projects related to workers' health and safety.

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