Monday, December 11, 2006

State Sago Report Delayed, and More

West Virginia's spokeswoman just advised that the state is delaying release of the Ofice of Miners' Health, Safety and Training report of the January 2 Sago explosion that was previously announced for today,

"in deference to the requests and needs of the family members for additional information about the Sago Mine accident report"...

The state said the report will be available "later," without being more specific.

Meanwhile a bevy of significant mine safety stories have piled up. Here are some of them:

From Pennsylvania:

The state Department of Environmental Protection has filed 23 citations against a Schuylkill County coal company where a miner died in an Oct. 23 blast.

That was an explosives accident at the the R & D Coal Co. Buck Mountain Slope anthracite operation.

Workers descended into the shaft at R&D Coal in Tremont Township yesterday to fix the problems, which have to do with ventilation, said DEP spokesman Tom Rathbun.

The mine cannot be reopened until those problems -- along with at least eight others cited by the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration -- are resolved, Rathbun said.

AP reports on a national review of coal mine accidents.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Coal companies must replace by-the-book compliance with a culture of prevention if they want to eliminate the underground fires and explosions that are killing miners, says a panel of experts releasing recommendations for the industry yesterday.

The Mine Safety Technology and Training Commission has studied 25 years of fires and explosions to produce more than 70 recommendations aimed at eliminating deaths and serious injuries in an industry that has had its worst year in decades.

Complying with state and federal regulations is insufficient because not every risk can be addressed in a rapidly changing environment, said Larry Grayson, commission chairman and a professor of mining engineering at the University of Missouri-Rolla.
"Unfortunately, it's easy to interpret that if I comply with the minimum requirements of the law, I'm going to be OK," Grayson said. "That's often a bad assumption."

The catch-phrase, "culture of prevention," has some prior history in mine safety. It first seems to have cropped up in an agreement signed by MSHA and the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association in early 2003. Former Assistant Secretary of MSHA Dave Lauriski started coupling it with his signature phrase, "Safety is a value." For instance:

March 11, 2003

There is a key phrase in the agreement that MSHA recently signed with the NSSGA that says, "We need a culture of prevention."

We need to make safety a value - a central thing, a part of us, deeply held, like our patriotism, like our caring for our families, like the value we put on a day's work for a day's pay.

By the autumn, he was using it in a more general sense, as before the National Safety Council in September 2003:

...two messages that we've been emphasizing at MSHA in the past two years:

· Safety is a value. It is a value to miners and their families, the company's reputation, and the bottom line.
· A culture of prevention. Everyone's actions will reinforce safety when prevention is part of the culture.

It's a good phrase. Just to give credit where it's due.

Ken Ward had a recent piece othat apparently sheds light on a different kind of culture at one mine:

A Massey Energy foreman testified Thursday that company managers told him to not perform pre-shift safety examinations, but to sign records falsely indicating that he had done the checks.

William Edwin Wine described the instructions he had received during a hearing before U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver.

“I was told to do it this way by my supervisors, by my bosses,” Wine said during the hearing in federal court in Charleston.

Wine testified in a hearing on the federal government’s motion to disqualify the law firm Spilman Thomas & Battle from defending Massey subsidiary White Buck Coal Co.... Prosecutors allege that White Buck failed to perform the required pre-shift safety check, and then falsified records to indicate that the check was done.

Now prosecutors say the Spilman firm should not be able to defend White Buck because one of its lawyers, Mark Heath, at one time represented Wine during a civil investigation of the pre-shift examination violation....

Ward also recently had a substantial inteview with new Assistant Secretary for MSHA Richard Stickler. The whole body of the piece seems to me to be balanced and well worth reading.

A few snippets:

If the Sago disaster had occurred a few days earlier, in 2005, it would have made that year’s death count 34, about average for the last decade or so, Stickler said.

“If you move Sago up two days, then in 2005 we have just an average year and 2006 would have been just an average year,” he said.

“Mine safety doesn’t see a calendar,” Stickler said. “It doesn’t know what year it is or what day it is.”....

On Friday, Stickler visited West Virginia to tour a Webster County coal preparation plant operated by Brooks Run Mining.

In a news release, MSHA noted that the facility won a prestigious Sentinels of Safety Award in 2005 for having no reportable accidents during its employees’ 122,000 hours worked that year.

But in 2004, two Brooks Run miners were killed in a five-week period, one at the preparation plant Stickler visited and another at a nearby underground mine. MSHA cited the company in both deaths, and Brooks Run paid a total of $66,000 in fines.

“They had those two fatalities, and they made a commitment that they were going to do something drastically different,” Stickler said during a Friday afternoon visit to the Gazette-Mail newsroom. “Obviously, this company has made a commitment to safety. That’s the way they’re running their business.”...

Stickler, 62, grew up in Barrackville, just northwest of Fairmont. His father was a miner, and he watched his grandfather die of black lung...

Stickler promised that his agency would begin to take stronger enforcement action against that “very small percentage” of renegade operators.

“The big picture is that the biggest problem is a lack of compliance with the laws we have on the books,” Stickler says...

Tax breaks for mine safety and health:

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., said legislation passed by the House on Friday afternoon contained key provisions for improving coal mine safety, cleaning up abandoned mines and providing health benefits for miners whose companies have gone out of business.

He explained that HR 6111 contained a great many last minute unrelated legislative initiatives, but few were as important to the Mountain State as the provisions that affect the coal mining industry...

Mollohan said the bill included tax incentives that will allow mine operators to expense 50 percent of the cost of qualified mine safety equipment that is put in service within three years of enactment of the legislation and a three-year training tax credit related to mine rescue training team programs.

“These provisions will encourage mine operators to take the steps necessary to improve mine safety," Mollohan said. “It should lead to significant improvements in a timely manner that can help save the lives of America’s coal miners."

A third important component of the bill is the reauthorization of current law that allows interest from the Abandoned Mine Land trust fund to be diverted to three plans that provide health benefits for coal miners whose companies have gone out of business. It also provides mandatory payments from the US Treasury to the benefit plans when needed....


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