It's been almost two years since Daniel Noel, 47, and Joel Schorr, 38, went to work at Barrick Goldstrike's Meikle mine near Elko, Nevada, but never made it back home to their families. They were fatally crushed on August 12, 2010 in a mine shaft by tons of falling aggregate and pipe. As I wrote last year, management at this mine --- an operation owned by the largest gold producer in the world, with a stock market value of tens of billions of dollars --- had jerry-rigged a reset button with a broom handle and failed to replace missing clamp bolts and load-bearing plates on the aggregate carrying pipe system, factors directly contributing to the workers' deaths.
Investigators with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) examined the circumstances leading to the fatal incident. They issued five high-severity citations that were accompanied with this language:
Management engaged in aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence... This violation is an unwarrantable failure to comply with a mandatory standard.
The t0tal monetary penalty assessed for those violations was $447,600. Those fines are yet to be paid because Barrick Gold has challenged the citations. The case is pending before the (independent of MSHA) Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, an agency mired in a backlog of about 17,000 cases.
One could say I shouldn't harp on Barrick for failing to pay the $447,600 fine because the company hasn't had "its day in court." What bugs me about this example is Barrick Gold's huge PR machine touting the firm's ethics and responsibility to local and global communities. Their 100+ page annual "Corporate Responsibility" reports contain feel-good stories about Barrick employees providing warm clothing to children in Alaska and building homes in rural Peruvian towns. In the section about safety, Barrick says the same thing as most other companies:
"Nothing is more important to Barrick than the safety, health and well-being of our workers and their families."
In its 2010 report, the year that Daniel Noel, 47, and Joel Schorr, 38, were killed on the job, Barrick's Responsibility Report noted:
"Barrick has a strong safety culture. ...Sadly, however, six employees lost their lives at two operations this year. Any fatality on the job is one too many and is a tragic reminder of the need for continual vigilance in the workplace."
There was no explanation in the glossy report for gross operational and safety deficiencies that caused the deaths at the Meikle mine.
In its 2011 Responsibility Report ---the year MSHA issued the citations and assessed the $447,600 penalty ---Barrick Gold indicated:
"...we received 568 regulatory actions at 15 sites, including citations for noise control, ground instability,and lack of safety barriers. ...Fines were received for a small number of these regulatory actions; in 2011 we received a total of $689,000 in fines at five properties."
The glossy Barrick Responsibility Report fails to mention that the company has yet to pay the $447,600 penalty assessed for the violations related to the death of Daniel Noel, 47, and Joel Schorr, 38. I guess it's one thing to write about being a responsible company, and quite another to actually take responsibility for your actions.
P.S. I'm not sure how Barrick came up with regulatory fines only at "five properties." At their U.S. operations alone, I counted penalties assessed at eight operations. Barrick has mining facilities in 12 countries.
I am posting a letter I sent to Barrick Gold and to several news affiliates. Why does no one care about these two men and their families? Did they mean NOTHING? The fines assessed are a paltry sanction for negligence.
I am writing in reference to the MSHA Report faulting Mine Managers at the Meikle Mine in Carlin, Nevada for the death of two miners that appeared online at foxnews.com on November 8, 2011.
One of the miners was my baby brother, Joel Ethan Schorr. Let me tell you how his death has impacted his wife and children. Ethan had just purchased a home a month or so prior to his death at work. Being responsible he signed up for credit life that would pay off the house if something happened to him. Something did happen to him, but because the policy had not been effect for a full 30 days prior to his death....the insurance company would not pay off his house. Did I mention my brother has five children ages 9, 10, 12, 13, and 17? He was supporting his wife in finishing her college degree; therefore she did not work at the time of his death.
My brother’s accident occurred at 1:10 am on August 12, 2010. His wife was contacted at approximately 7:00 am by mine personnel. When my family notified me I contacted law enforcement in Elko to determine the extent of the accident. I drove to Elko when I learned through those channels that the situation appeared grim. Meanwhile, the mine arranged to have my sister and mother and the other miner’s families flown into Elko.
When everyone arrived, Barrick staff briefed us and told us they would give us updates on the rescue mission about every four hours or sooner if, there was breaking news. They assured us everything that could be done, was being done, and reminded us repeatedly that the men were trapped in a "ventilation" shaft. Hope sprang eternal for two families.
This went on for several days. Finally, my mother had a meltdown and begged MSHA personnel hysterically to tell her the truth about her baby. After conferring with Barrick personnel it was confirmed both men were dead. Why put a family through that when it is apparent from reading the MSHA report that staff knew IMMEDIATELY the two miners couldn't possibly have survived? Is torture part of the Liaison job description to work for Barrick Gold?
Several mine personnel were tasked with caring for the two families while we waited secluded at an Elko Hotel. Those people should be commended. Hotel staff were kind and gracious to us as well. My family will be forever grateful to the women from Barrick Gold who did their level best to make us as comfortable as possible during the rescue, and ultimately the recovery mission. The community of Elko as a whole comforted us and assisted us in any way. The clothing stores gave us a discount for memorial service clothing for the children. Local law enforcement and businesses pitched in and provided a birthday party for my nephew. All in all, the people in Elko were AMAZING, wherever we went.
Barrick Gold moved quickly in offering to provide three years worth of continuing health insurance coverage for the widows and children. Of course, the lump sum check issued for the insurance premiums did not cover the cost of premiums plus inflation for the three years and now, merely 15 months later...the money is depleted and the cost of the insurance rivals a house payment.
The best part is that Nevada is a "No Fault" state, so even if the employer is responsible for the negligent death of an employee....the family CANNOT sue for the wrongful death of their family member. Of course, the manufacturer of the Aggregate Delivery System can be sued, but NOT the employer who installed and failed to maintain the equipment and safety devices per the manufacturer’s instruction. A failure that led to certain death for employee’s on the job. Accidental death insurance pays a lump sum to the beneficiaries equal to the employee's yearly salary not including overtime. Since the resulting deaths were job related, the figure doubles. I now know the definition of double indemnity. Heck of a way to learn it...and...I wouldn't advise it as a learning tool.
Meanwhile, it took over six months for the families to receive the partial remains of their loved ones. Six months in which DNA samples were taken from family members and from the deceased's tooth and hair brushes to identify whose body parts were whose. Six months watching; waiting; and sorting through the devastation left behind because management DIDN’T take the time to make the workplace the safest environment possible for their employees. Six months to obtain death certificates so the families could start receiving survivor benefits. Six months for children to bury their fathers and have some closure. Six months for spouses, siblings, and parents to try and make sense of a tragedy.
During the initial month or so after the accident, Barrick Gold personnel were attentive and helpful. But time passed and everything went back to business as usual. Usual that is for everyone BUT the families mourning the loss of their loved ones. Loved ones they still hadn't been able to bury. Loved ones whose remains were still being located by sifting through debris with cadaver dogs. Oh...and could we get ANOTHER DNA sample for comparison and identification purposes, please, grieving family?
Fifteen months it has taken for the investigation to be completed. With the results being......DRUM ROLL, please........."management engaged in AGGRAVATED conduct constituting MORE than ordinary negligence by FAILING to take the necessary actions KNOWING that there were safety defects present. This violation is an UNWARRANTED failure to comply with MANDATORY standard." Not in one instance, but in a total of six instances! While accidents happen, negligence by definition is the failure to act in a reasonable manner, leading to injury or harm to others. Labeling the conduct aggravated implies behavior criminal in nature, usually involving injury. Most criminal behavior results in legal consequences and usually restitution of some kind. Interesting what the consequences and restitution will be in a “No Fault” state that is primarily supported by Barrick Gold of North America.
The President of Barrick Gold of North America, Greg Lang, stated "Nothing can compensate for the impact that the loss of Dan Noel and Ethan Schorr has had on loved ones and everyone who knew them, and our thoughts and prayers remain with their families."
Mr. Lang....thoughts and prayers don't provide health insurance coverage....they don't provide the income lost to the widows and children....they don't pay the bills and they don't replace a son's longing to have his Dad take him fishing, or a daughter's heartache because her Father won't be there to walk her down the aisle. A wife and family’s loneliness and aching for the person they loved. My brother’s family was packed and waiting to leave on vacation to Papa and Grammy Schorr’s when Daddy got home from work. Five children with their suitcases packed fighting over “shotgun” and the window seats, arrangements made for friends to care for the family pet so they could hit the road when Daddy arrived. Put yourself in their shoes.
I am hurt and offended, as are my entire family and the Noel family, that the world was allowed to pray and witness with the West Virginia miners and their families; with the miners trapped in Chile and their families; and yet again when a miner went missing in northern Idaho; all mining accidents, which made national news. Were those men more important that Dan Noel and Ethan Schorr? Did our families not deserve to have the nation hoping and praying for our men? To think that in Chile, even their PRESIDENT came to assist in rescue efforts and attempted to aid his people, but that in Nevada, MOST people weren't even aware two miners were missing. Even more intriguing, was that CNN ran a crawler the day of the accident stating “two miners missing in Nevada” but nothing more was publicized.
The most discouraging part of all this...is that one of the richest companies in the world, will be fined $60 to $220,000 per violation for an approximate total of a maximum of $1,320,000.00, which ultimately represents what the government thinks a dead miner is worth. An amount Barrick Gold of North America earns in 15 minutes of mining, each fiscal year thanks to historically high gold prices. An amount that should have been cheerfully given to each family....not to replace the lives lost....but to simply say, "We at Barrick Gold are sorry." Instead, the families are left in limbo and reminded at every turn that while the employer IS responsible for the loss of life, there is no consequence that can be brought forth as punishment, or in retribution for their aggravated conduct.
Finally, I was raised to believe that saying you’re sorry means you don't do it AGAIN! To Mr. Lang....I say "my thoughts and prayers are that your company does the RIGHT thing. In addition, that being "sorry" for Barrick Gold means they make sure no other families suffer as ours has......that the company learns from its mistakes and makes the work environment in ALL mines as safe as humanly possible. This was not an ACCIDENT…it was AGGRAVATED NEGLIGENCE. Please, please Mr. Lang, no short cuts; no bypassing safety; no tolerance for bending the rules to keep production up; and no more KNOWING CONDUCT, costing a life!
Paula L. Aldous
Grieving Sister of Joel “Ethan” Schorr
Ms. Monforton, DrPH, MPH: for an educated woman I am a little surprised you would end your complaint with this sentence:
" I guess it’s one thing to write about being a responsible company, and quite another to actually take responsibility for your actions."
What actual responsibility would you have the company take for their actions? In your post I get the impression that you directly associate paying a fine with taking responsibility. I, as a miner, am offended by that. You actually believe that giving our government half a million dollars is the same as taking responsibility for the death of two miners? How absurd.
The responsibility should be directed at the miners families. Ms. Aldous makes the point above, if the company is indeed sorry about the deaths of their employees, why don't they show it with some health insurance for the families and some money to get them started in a new, unwanted, and unanticipated stage of their lives.
As for MSHA; MSHA is a government organization. It's structure is bureaucratic, it's decisions byzantine. Do not be fooled into thinking you know the details of an accident by reading a report from MSHA.
It is tragic that these men died. It's stupid that these men died if indeed someone bypassed safety mechanisms and shut off valves, and criminal if someone failed to install the proper bolts. Why are those responsible for those actions, which are immediately responsible for the deaths, not being held accountable? Who was the miner who decided to bypass the cutoff system? Who was the supervisor who decided not to double check that all the bolts and brackets had been installed correctly? Or even worse, the supervisor who saw that the safety mechanisms were bypassed and the bolts were not installed and did nothing? Those are the men responsible.
As for Ms. Aldous' feeling that the world does not care about her brothers death, I am sorry. Its the nature of the world that only a family grieves the loss of a loved one. Its the same when a Soldier dies anonymously in Afghanistan, Or when a trucker is killed on a lonely highway. It's sad. But it's also the natural cycle of our world.
It's important to keep this argument in perspective. Miners know that they work in a dangerous environment. They know that they may be killed while doing their job. They know they may lose a limb. The same as a Soldier knows he may be killed by an enemy, or by an explosion. It doesn't take the pain from the family, but the miner knows. He is doing a job because he can get more money doing that than anything else. He accepts the danger because he is able to provide a better life for his family.
There are arguments for what the company should be held accountable for, but please keep the arguments in the realm of reality and the context of other dangerous professions. The government fines will not prevent deaths. The government fines will not support the families grieving lost loved ones. The government will only prevent mining companies from opening mines and providing good jobs for miners. The government fines will only prevent mining companies from paying money to the families of the deceased. If you are going to protest, please do so in a way that actually makes things better. Government does not make this, or any situation, better.
My condolences to the families of the deceased. Your loss and pain cannot be talked away, legislated away, paid away, or regulated away. May God be with you.
Thanks for you comment. Like it or not, one of the ways an organization and/or an individual is held accountable for their violations of the law (whether it someone who speeds on the Interstate, or a mine operator who fails to ensure a coal mine is properly rock-dusted) is with a monetary penalty. If I had my wish, employers who knowingly violate mine safety regulations that kill or seriously injury a worker should serve jail time. But until jail time is part of the OSHA law or the MSHA law, I'll accept that the monetary penalty is the next best thing.
I respectfully disagree that workers should just accept that there are just some "dangerous occupations." Anyone who studies accident investigation reports will quickly see that the vast majority of fatal incidents occur because of failures to identify and correct hazards. There may be some industries where hazards are routinely created as part of the industrial process, and if so, that much more attention much be devoted to finding and fixing them.
You are entitled to your opinion, I just have a different one. There is plenty of empirical data demonstrating that inspections and fines have changed work practices and have saved lives.
Finally, I certainly know that MSHA's accident investigation report is not the only source of information about the incident that killed Mr. Schorr and Mr. Noel. As I noted in a previous blog post about this incident, I did not only want MSHA's version of the story. I made a specific request to Barrick for their investigation report, a document that is required by the Mine Act, and one that is supposed to be made available "to interested parties." This is the response I received from Barrick on 11/14/11: "Barrick's internal reports regarding such cases are under legal privilege and are not released publicly. Sorry we couldn't be of more assistance in this case."
To Whom I May Concern,
My name is Elaine Noel. My husband's name is Donald Noel. Our first born son is Daniel P. Noel, and he has two brothers, Dwayne Noel and Dean Noel.
My first born Daniel P. Noel worked for your company at BARRICK GOLDSTRIKE MINES INC.MEIKLE MINES.
On August 12,2010 you and your company TOOK MY SON DANNY'S LIFE due to High Negligence on your part.
I say your part, because you as a multi billion dollar corporation are the ones who are responsible for the people that you hire, and your corporation are the ones who are supposed to make sure that the men you hire are doing their job and doing it with the utmost safety in mind, no cutting corners or waiting to fix something the correct way just to save a buck. You have inspections in place for a reason, not just to ignore them when they find something that needs to be corrected, or to find ways to get around an alarm so that it won't hold up production.
My son was a good man and a good son, brother, father and husband. Now, because of you, my grandson Danny will grow up without his fathers' love guidance and teachings as will his son Anthony.
My son was a very loving, thoughtful, and caring young man who made people laugh, and he always helped his friends when they needed help.
I find it so very hard to wake up each morning knowing that I will never be able to hear his voice (he would call 2-3 times a week sometimes 4) just to see how his mom & dad and brother Dean were. I will never be able to hug him and tell him how much I love him. He used to come to Tucson to go hunting and visit----I will never be able to cook for him again. He would call his brother Dean (who is very sick) and try to cheer him up and joke with him. His brother will never hear his voice again.
Danny loved NASCAR and would call his dad to find out who won, and they would discuss the race when it was over and joke and laugh---his father will never hear his voice again.
It took SIX MONTHS to the day for us to get my son’s remains back, because YOUR MULTI BILLION DOLLAR CORPORATION, I REPEAT MULTI BILLION DOLLAR CORPORATION, didn’t want to PAY FOR STAT DNA TESTING, because you already spent a lot of money on the two families, and you didn’t want to spend a lot more as was told to us by the Coroners Office. We could have had him back in three weeks after they gathered his remains. Do you know the heartache and the pain and suffering that you have put BOTH families through??? Or should I ask DO YOU CARE??? Let me give you a small account of it---Dan’s remains were in the morgue during his son’s birthday, his father’s birthday, his two brother’ birthdays, and his mom’s birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Can you even imagine what it was like thinking your sons’ remains are in a heap in some COLD, dark MORGUE while you are trying, and I repeat TRYING, to somewhat celebrate these Holidays? Then it took a REDICULOUS 15 MONTHS for us to finally get the accident report from MSHA, only to find out how much negligence there was on the part of your MULTI BILLION DOLLAR COMPANY. This all could have been prevented if only your money hungry cravings were not so overwhelming that you forgot about the MINERS’ SAFTEY. I SAY HOW DARE YOU!
I have lost a son who would always make me laugh and was always so thoughtful and who had so many friends. He loved life and he lived it to the fullest, but he had so much more to offer. He wanted to teach his son Danny to hunt and go snowmobiling, fishing and to teach him how to be an upstanding young man but because of your High Negligence and disregard for safety this will never happen. I pray that you don’t have any children that are working in that mine because let me tell you, this is something that you never want to go through nor do you want to put YOUR FAMILY through. I don’t sleep well at all. I have nightmares about how he was crushed to death and wonder if he suffered. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’s cry for him. There is an emptiness, a hole in my hear that aches so much and it doesn’t go away. I fact, as the days go by it is getting worse. We didn’t even have the chance to say good bye. I writhe this letter in the hopes that all of Danny’s and Ethan’s fellow workers see this or hear about it and DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING from the mine if anything should happen to them at ANY BARRICK MINES, as representatives from the company will be there acting like they are there for the Family when in reality they are there only to make sure that no party can SUE them for their negligence, THIS INCLUDES WORKMAN’S COMP OR ANY TYPE OF INSURANCE. I mean you must wait and get a lawyer first to go over everything so that all will be taken care of the right way. Our son’s life is worth way more than just a $60,000 truck. What I would like to say to Barricks’ President and higher-ups is this, “I want you to tell me what your child’s life or maybe your brother’s or dad’s life is worth to you, then take that number and multiply it by INFINITY. I am sure you can’t come up with a number. Well that’s what my sons’ life is worth to me. Yet you think his life was only worth a $60,000 dollar truck. I SAY SHAME ON YOU!!! How do you sleep at night? By the way, since the Memorial, not one of the people from BARRICK has ever checke3d on his wife or other immediate family members, which include (even though YOU don’t think so) his mom, dad, and his brothers
As far as we are concerned as per the MSAH report Barrick is guilty of the MURDER of Daniel Noel and Ethan Schorr and they are getting away with it.
Please know that the thoughts and feelings I have shared with you in this letter also represent the thinking of Danny’s entire family, who are forever grieving.
The Noel Family
I tried to get this printed in the Elko Daily Free Press before the seconed Anniversary of Danny being in Heaven. My husband talked to Jeff Mullins editor of the paper. The publisher of the Elko paper who is also the publisher of the Times News in Idaho John Pfeifer got back to my husband and said he had to varifiy some things that I wrote and my husband Don said he can get all the facts from the MSHA report on the internet and that everything I wrote was fact. This conversation was on the 9th., I even E-mailed another letter on the 15th. to Jeff Mullins and John Pfeifer asking if they treat all their customers like this or was it just that my story was insignificant. Needless to say we still haven't heard from them.