Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Same Old Same Old

Computer problems again, and still shopping for a new system. Meanwhile...

Coal mine fatalities have climbed to 26, compared with 22 for the whole year of 2005. Metal nonmetal mine deaths are at 8, similar to the previous three years, all of which marked 8 or 9 at this time.
Regional reporters are continuing to dig into mine safety and evidently hitting new veins of the "same old" pay dirt: lax enforcement.

At the state level, the Courier-Journal makes connections:

You probably won't remember the name Charles Robert Stump, but he has made the news twice in a week.

Back in 2004, he ran the Highlands Mining and Processing underground operation near Cumberland in Harlan County. There he ordered work to continue, despite the "red tags" with which state inspectors had closed parts of his mine, because of unsafe conditions....

Yesterday, state officials released a copy of the agreement that settled the case. It revokes Mr. Stump's mine foreman papers for three years, probates his underground miner certificate for that same period and slaps him and the company, jointly, with a $10,000 fine.

...The firm is defunct, so who knows whether Highlands will pay its share.

....He is an owner at the Tri Star Coal mine in Pike County where, just last week, 28-year-old David Chad Bolen died while moving a shuttle car anchor."

And at the federal level Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) is calling for a hearing into charges that a federal inspector was instructed to back off enforcement at the Alma mine before a disastrous fire this year that killed two.

The Post-Gazette had the original story and followup:

"Minness Justice, an inspector with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, told fellow MSHA employee Danny Woods that he believed dangerous amounts of spilled coal and dust had been allowed to accumulate along the belt line, raising the risk of a fire, and that the belt's fire suppression system was inadequate, Mr. Woods said.

"'He was just told to back off and let them run coal, that there was too much demand for coal,' Mr. Woods said. 'He came up and told me he was told to do certain things and the inspectors before him hadn't done a proper job.'"

Whatever the truth of the matter, I hope very much that MSHA and its bosses at the Department of Labor will not be planning to fire Mr. Justice and/or Mr. Woods. Not even after a couple of years and on "unrelated" charges.

It is to be hoped that somebody learned that much from the actions against former MSHA Academy superintendent Jack Spadaro, when he complained of management coercion in the investigation of a coal mine impoundment failure.

One summary of how that played out is here and a followup here.

Some good things also are happening. MSHA has approved a couple of radios for underground coal mine use, which could help in any future Sago-like underground rescue efforts. MSHA also has apparently started to give some publicity to big fines it issues, for example here and here. This could be a p.r. strike against "lax enforcement" charges; it's also just a good thing to do.

An important international mine heatlh and safety symposium took place last week at Wheeling Jesuit University. Here's just one story from a local paper.


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