From: The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register
No one involved in coal mining should be exempt from responsibility for safety. That includes individual miners up to and including coal company owners and executives.
West Virginia legislators need to do more to ensure that happens, they were told Tuesday by J. Davitt McAteer, who led an investigation into the 2010 deaths of 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine.
State law now places substantial responsibility on mine foremen to keep the men and women they supervise directly safe. But often, foremen are merely following orders.
McAteer’s report and others on the Big Branch tragedy accuse the mine’s former owner, Massey Energy, of what amounts to a culture of avoiding compliance with some safety regulations. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration cited “systematic, intentional and aggressive efforts” by the company to conceal problems.
Legislators are considering a mine safety bill proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. It includes a variety of specific measures, ranging from those to control coal dust better to more protection for miners who report safety concerns.
But the bill is not “comprehensive enough to address the problems that we found in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster,” McAteer testified Tuesday.
He added federal action to deal with major mine safety concerns has been lacking. “If there is to be correction, if we are to prevent any more (disasters), it is to come from here,” he warned legislators.
Obviously, mine owners and executives bear enormous burdens when it comes to keeping their employees safe. The buck really does stop with them.
If changes in state law are needed to hold higher-ranking officials responsible for mine conditions, the Legislature indeed should make them.
In doing so, it should not give mine employees and foremen free passes, however. Again, mine safety involves everyone from the man operating a longwall or continuous miner to the executive who sets production goals that affect safety. It is a team effort – and sometimes a team failure. That needs to be emphasized in state law.