Monday, July 10, 2006

Behavior Problems Killing Miners?

Are the coal miners killed this year victims of bad behavior? Depends on whose behavior you're talking about.

Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association says we don't need any new laws:
:"I would argue we have enough laws," said Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association. "Once the dust settles, you'll see if there was a series of occurrences that resulted in Darby and Sago. More than likely these were violations of current existing laws -- I don't think the new laws would have much impact."

Caylor said regulators should put more weight on the "behavior modification" of miners -- changing bad, unsafe habits to prevent future disasters.

"Probably, more laws would not have prevented the Sago or Kentucky Darby disasters," he said.
Miners say there's something else going on:
Leon Napier was a hardworking man, but he admits that sometimes he and his buddies cut corners while mining underground. Maybe a ventilation curtain wouldn't stay up, maybe a coal-cutting machine was driven through a shortcut instead of on a safe pathway.

Mostly, he says, the shortcuts were taken to speed up production.

"To run coal the right way -- the safe way -- you won't run as much coal,"
says Napier, 46, who retired three years ago after working 28 years in eastern Kentucky's coal fields.

After two major coal mine disasters this year, new federal and state laws have been passed to save miners from explosions, fires, rockfalls and other hazards. But some longtime miners, like Napier, say it's going to take more than doubling up air packs and escape drills to create a safer working environment.

It's going to take a change in attitude.

"Until we get mine managers to take the responsibility for their employees and start caring about human lives, that's not going to matter," said Carl Potter, an Oklahoma-based mine safety consultant.
Meanwhile, speaking of behavior problems, inspectors from the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet have identified 119 self-contained self-rescuers that are not functioning. But Bill Caylor, who is so concerned about miners' behavior, doesn't seem to be concerned if the self rescuers aren't behaving properly. According to Caylor,
the findings are not alarming, although he said they suggest that miners, mine companies and inspectors need to check the devices more frequently.

"I don't think it indicates a problem, no," he said.
Some miners would disagree. "That's 100-and-some lives that could have been lost if they had to use them," a former miner and a brother-in-law of one of the miners killed at Darby which used the same type of self-rescuers.

And although inspectors have checked thousands of respirators,
Tony Oppegard, a former state and federal mine safety official and a lawyer who represents four of the five families of the Darby victims, said 119 defective breathing devices is "a significant number."
And speaking of behavior (again), it seems that the Kentucky Darby mine owners weren't behaving very well either right before the mine exploded, killing five miners last May:
Eleven days before a fatal explosion at Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1, federal inspectors cited the mine for an accumulation of loose coal and combustible coal dust up to 30 inches deep near a conveyor belt.

Inspectors with the Mine Safety and Health Administration also cited the Harlan County mine for other combustible material -- empty oil cans, open oil cans, paper, paper bags and wooden pallets, according to federal citations The Courier-Journal obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

"It's indicative of a mine that doesn't pay attention to safety," Tony Oppegard, a former state and federal mine safety official who represents the families of four of the five miners who died in or after the May 20 explosion.
Although the problems were cleaned up and weren't the cause of the explosion, Oppegard says they still indicate that the mine was have safety problems:
"There is a long-time axiom that a mine that is dirty, in terms of not being well-kept, is going to have safety problems," Oppegard said.
So, Caylor may be onto something. We may need a bit more "behavior modification" in the mines -- but it's the mine owners' behavior that need's to be modified.