CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A month ago, Massey Energy hosted a "Safety and Environmental Innovations Expo" to show off ways the Richmond, Va.-based coal giant has improved mine safety and the environment.
Company officials touted Massey's record and said employees believe the company keeps them safe.
"We recently surveyed all of our underground workers and asked them, do they feel that the company is looking out for their safety," Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater said at the time.
"And we had a very favorable response of over 90 percent of the people [who] work for us feel that the company is, in fact, looking after their own safety."
On Monday, a huge explosion ripped through a Massey mine in Raleigh County, killing at least 25 workers in the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in more than a quarter century. Two other miners were hospitalized and four more remain unaccounted for.
Recent MSHA data shows a dramatically increased number of violations at the Upper Big Branch Mine, where Monday's disaster occurred.
Federal citations and enforcement orders at Upper Big Branch doubled between 2008 and 2009 to more than 500. Fines assessed by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration tripled over the same period to nearly $900,000.
Coal production also tripled over that period, but hours worked by miners increased by only about 22 percent, according to a review of MSHA data.
And last year, more than 10 percent of the enforcement actions taken by MSHA at the Upper Big Branch Mine were for "unwarrantable failure" to follow safety rules, compared to about 2 percent at mines nationwide.
"That's a red flag that they have a serious safety problem and a lack of commitment to safety," said Tony Oppegard, a former MSHA staffer and mine safety expert in Kentucky.