CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal officials announced Tuesday that they had expanded their investigation the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster to allow workers and families of the victims to anonymously discuss concerns about the Massey Energy mine "without fear of retaliation."
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis called for the move, which involved formation of a "supplemental investigation group" in addition to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's primary investigation team.
Robert Phillips, a 27-year MSHA veteran who recently retired, will be charged with providing a "safe, confidential venue for the general public, family members of the victims and miners to speak freely to MSHA investigators," said an agency news release.
"We need to use every available tool to establish the cause of this tragedy that took 29 coal miners' lives," said MSHA chief Joe Main. "The work of this special team will be part of MSHA's investigative process, and it will give family members and others the opportunity to share information they might otherwise not feel comfortable passing along."
MSHA also announced Tuesday that the manager of its coal mine safety and health office in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., would be in charge of conducting an "internal review" of MSHA actions before the April 5 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine.
At the same time, MSHA has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday night with families of the 29 miners killed at Upper Big Branch, and is expected to give the families more details of how its investigation into the disaster will proceed. A public announcement of those details is expected Thursday.