CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the three years prior to the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, three Massey Energy mine managers with ties to the operation were personally cited by state inspectors for allegedly faking safety examinations and ordering miners to work in unsafe conditions, according to state records obtained Monday.
Two of the foremen for Massey subsidiary Performance Coal Co. agreed to voluntary one-year suspensions of their state mine foremen's certification cards.
Massey general counsel Shane Harvey said the company punished both men. "We didn't approve of their actions," Harvey said Monday.
The third Massey supervisor, Jason Whitehead, then-vice president of Marfork Coal Co. at Massey's Horse Creek Eagle Mine, was cited for exposing workers to unsupported sections of the mine.
Whitehead later won a legal challenge and avoided a $200 fine.
Under West Virginia law, state inspectors can cite individual mine foremen for violations of state safety and health laws. The state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training licenses mine foremen, and can seek to suspend or revoke certifications for serious violations by foremen.
Massey's safety record has been under increasing scrutiny in the last five months, as investigators continue to probe the underground blast that killed 29 miners, the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in 40 years. Records being reviewed as part of that mostly closed-door investigation continue to periodically trickle out, and Massey has engaged in an aggressive public relations effort criticizing the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Two Massey foreman at Upper Big Branch, Lacy Cox Jr. and Brian Wiseman, were cited by state inspectors in incidents that were alleged to have occurred in June 2007 and October 2007.
Inspectors alleged that on June 27, 2007, Cox marked 10 underground mine date boards at Upper Big Branch to indicate that he had conducted a safety examination of a conveyor belt tunnel. But, a state inspector alleged, the times that Cox marked were "in advance of the existing time" an indication that "it was impossible for you to have made this examination during the times indicated on the date boards."
In August 2007, state mine safety director Ron Wooten sought to permanently revoke Cox's foreman's certificate. Five months later, in February 2008, Cox agreed to a one-year suspension to settle the case.
Harvey said that Cox was suspended for five days without pay and reassigned to work duties at Upper Big Branch that did not involve conducting safety examinations. Harvey said Massey did additional training on the issue for mine employees.
State inspectors cited similar allegations against Wiseman, alleging that in October 2007 they discovered date board entries that suggested Wiseman was not conducting proper pre-shift safety examinations. Inspectors also alleged specifically that an inspector caught him not examining the entire length of a conveyor belt tunnel as required by law.