The Global Report

Govt. agency: Deadly mine accident preventable

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Forty-eight coal miners died on the job in 2010, 29 of them in a single incident at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia"the worst mining accident in the US since 1970. This week, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) outlined the preliminary results of its investigation into the April 5, 2010, accident. The exact causes remain unknown, but safety investigators have made one thing clear: The explosion in the mine was preventable.

Not that there weren't plenty of red flags leading up to the tragedy; MSHA had issued 557 citations for violations in the year before the explosion, shutting down work in portions of the mine 48 times for noncompliance. This has left many wondering why a mine with such a dismal safety record and a history of serial violations was allowed to keep operating until disaster ensued.

During a briefing with reports on Wednesday, Kevin Stricklin, MSHA's coal mine safety and health administrator, defended his agency's role in ensuring safety conditions were met at the mine. "We've issued more orders at this particular mine than any mine in the country," he said. "I think my folks were enforcing the law here."

That, mine-safety advocates say, is precisely the problem. MSHA may have been enforcing the law, they say, but the law simply doesn't give the agency the regulatory clout to adequately protect the health and safety of miners. As it stands, repeat offenders like Massey have long evaded more serious consequences for their offenses. This is largely due to a long-standing interpretation of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Amendments Act, the 33-year-old law governing mine safety, that the industry lobbied hard to enshrine. The provision in question concerns what constitutes a so-called pattern of violations (POV); this designation allows MSHA to impose tougher inspections and shut down mine operators for repeat safety offenses if they fail to make major improvements.

Sources: Mother Jones

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