CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal and state regulators failed to conduct proper inspections, take strong enough enforcement actions or "connect the dots" to prevent the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, an independent investigation team found.
The team led by longtime mine safety advocate Davitt McAteer focused most of the criticism in a 126-page report on Massey Energy, which operated the Raleigh County mine.
But the team also had harsh words for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, which is charged with protecting miners and enforcing federal safety rules.
"The disaster at the Upper Big Branch Mine is proof positive that the agency failed its duty as the watchdog for coal miners," McAteer's team concluded in a report released Thursday.
The report noted Gazette reports that MSHA did not use new tools -- such as tougher safety fines for particular egregious violations -- given to it by Congress after a series of mine disasters in 2006.
It also said MSHA neglected to push for better coal-dust monitoring, overlooked the "deadly potential" of the Upper Big Branch mine's troubled ventilation system, and allowed the nation's mine safety system to "atrophy."
"The ultimate failure of MSHA at UBB, however, was the agency's inability to see the entire picture, the inability to connect the dots of the many potentially catastrophic failures taking place at the mine -- especially the operator's failure to properly ventilate the mine, to control methane, to apply sufficient amounts of rock dust," the McAteer report said. "The ability to stand back and take a long look -- to see the red flags, to connect the dots -- and the ability and willingness to take quick action when necessary distinguishes a regulatory agency which can prevent disaster from one which only reacts."
In its prepared statement responding to the McAteer report, MSHA did not address the report's criticisms of the federal agency.