Monday, April 10, 2006

Feds Initiate Criminal Probe Against Massey For Two Miner Deaths

The Charleston Gazette reports that the US Attorney's office is launching an criminal investigation into the fire at Massey Energy’s Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine mine that killed two miners in January.

What's justifying possible criminal charges?

According to the Gazette, Massey could not produce records to show that they conducted required monthly tests of automatic firefighting system on the conveyor belt where the fire occurred. Massey also neglected to conduct fire drills or teach miners how to use fire-safety equipment. Unfortunately, the state of West Virginia didn't find out about the violations until after the fire had killed two miners because the state had neglected to conduct required annual electrical inspections of the mine.
In one violation, issued March 21 and released last week, state inspector Eugene White wrote that, “testimony received revealed fire drills and demonstrations of various types of available firefighting equipment are not being held for employees at least every six months.”

White also wrote in another violation that Aracoma miners “have not received training on the fire warning signal and location of fire hoses and fire extinguishers.”

Last week, state officials also released a report that showed dozens of electrical violations at the Aracoma mine occurred before the fire but were not found by state inspectors until afterward.

Asked about that report, state regulators disclosed that they had not conducted a detailed electrical inspection of the mine — required annually by state law — for at least two years.
According to Tony Oppegard, a former mine safety prosecutor in Kentucky.
“That’s just intolerable.

“If a mine the size of Aracoma with an operator the size of Massey is being ignored, it certainly raises questions about whether other mines are having electrical inspections,” Oppegard said.

Investigators haven't identified the exact cause of the fire yet. It could have been friction caused by slippage of the conveyor belts, or an electrical problem.

So what does Massey have to say about the criminal investigation? Hard to say. According to the Gazette,
Richmond, Va.-based Massey Energy says that it has a corporate policy of not responding to questions from Charleston Gazette reporters.

More mine stories here.