MSHA: Unlawful Company Policies at Root of UBB Explosion - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

MSHA: Unlawful Company Policies at Root of Upper Big Branch Explosion

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The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration Tuesday released its report on the April 5, 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion. Click here to read the report.

The report concluded that the root cause of the explosion were the, "unlawful policies and practices," implemented by Performance Coal Co. and Massey Energy. Performance Coal owns the mine and was a subsidiary of Massey at the time. Massey has since been purchased by Alpha Natural Resources.

 "The evidence accumulated during the investigation demonstrates that PCC/Massey promoted and enforced a workplace culture that valued production over safety, including practices calculated to allow it to conduct mining operations in violation of the law," the report's executive summary states.

The investigation pointed to examples of "systematic, intentional and aggressive efforts by PCC/Massey to avoid compliance with safety and health standards," the summary states. The report also accuses the companies of attempting to hide noncompliance with federal and state regulations.

During the investigation, witnesses testified that mine management intimidated miners by telling them that reporting safety violations would threaten their jobs, the summary states. The report concluded that because of that intimidation, no safety or health complaints were made to MSHA about the Upper Big Branch Mine.

Other findings outlined in the executive summary include:

  • The companies established a system to give warning when safety inspectors were headed to the mine.
  •  The companies kept two sets of safety and health hazard books for the Upper Big Branch Mine.
  •  The companies let the conditions at the mine deteriorate, leading to the explosion. The explosion was caused by, "a methane ignition that transitioned into a small methane explosion that then set off a massive coal dust explosion."
  •  Basic safety precautions could have prevented the explosion. The mine lacked working methane gas detection methods and proper ventilation.
  • The companies allowed significant amounts of coal dust to accumulate in the mine. That coal dust became the fuel for the explosion.

Shortly after the report was released on MSHA's web site, the agency announced it would fine Performance Coal nearly $11 million for violations related to the explosion, according to a news release from MSHA. That's the largest fine in MSHA history.

MSHA also issued 369 citations and orders, including 21 flagrant violations, in the case, according to the news release.