On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and ranking minority member of the labor committee, questioned Alpha's safety commitment during a floor speech, saying the company had shown "some troubling contradictions that merit a careful watch."
In its earnings press release, Alpha said employee feedback from training at former Massey operations was "overwhelmingly positive," that worker turnover was down and that "incident rates at the legacy Massey operations are declining."
Crutchfield said that Alpha generally has recorded a federal safety violation rate of 0.5 to 0.6 violations per inspection day, while prior to the acquisition, Massey operations recorded a rate of 0.8 to 1.0 violations per inspection day.
Massey's safety record was a major issue for many years, and recent reports on the deaths of 29 miners in the April 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster highlighted repeated violations, efforts to obstruct government inspectors, and practices investigators said clearly put coal production ahead of worker safety and health.
During initial comments to analysts, Crutchfield said that year-to-date incident rate for former Massey operations had decreased by more than 13 percent compared to 2010.
Asked by industry analysts for additional figures to show what sort of improvement has been made at Massey mines since the transaction, Alpha officials hedged. They said they couldn't point to any major changes in compliance rates, but were seeing a significant decline in more serious enforcement actions by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
"We haven't seen a significant decrease in our violations per inspection day," said Kurt Kost, Alpha's president. "The main metric that we're focusing on right now, obviously, is the injury rate and that rate is definitely trending in the proper direction. "
Crutchfield specifically declined to provide figures on the performance of two former Massey mines - Randolph and Justice No. 1 - that face potential "pattern of violations" enforcement orders from MSHA.
While emphasizing his company's commitment to reducing violations and operating safely, Crutchfield has said Alpha opposes new legislation that would toughen penalties for operators convicted of criminal mine safety violations.
Alpha has also said it would challenge the pattern of violations warnings MSHA issued to the Randolph and Justice operations.
"If people will think back, I always said that MSHA wasn't going to cut us any slack, and they didn't," Crutchfield said. "MSHA is going to do what they think is right, and we're going to demonstrate that we know how to run these operations and we know how to run them in compliance.
"I think MSHA has a fair degree of respect for Alpha," Crutchfield said. "We're going to make their job easier in some ways, but harder in others. They're going to have to look harder to find something to write."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.