At Upper Big Branch, Pavlovich found problems.
"The section belt conveyor, from the drive to the section was black in color and needed rock dusting," he wrote. A foreman, Rick Foster, told Pavlovich his equipment was ready for rock-dusting, but he got called away to splice a belt.
Pavlovich found the active mining section was clean, but three tunnels were not rock-dusted for a length of three crosscuts headed out of the mine.
In late October 2009, Pavlovich went back to Upper Big Branch. Federal inspectors had issued a series of escalating violations, including many orders that closed parts of the operation until serious problems were fixed.
Pavlovich found two mine tunnels in bad need of rock-dusting, one for a length of more than 300 feet.
"There appeared to be no uniform requirement on when and how the section should be rock-dusted," Pavlovich said in his report. "General consensus was that the day shift would rock dust with the sling duster at the end of the shift, unless they didn't get it done and then maybe the evening shift or the maintenance crew on the third shift would do the rock dusting.
"A more specific system should be established to ensure that accountability is maintained for rock dusting."
By May 2011, some information about Pavlovich's audits was beginning to reach the public record.
After the Upper Big Branch Mine blew up, several sets of shareholder groups filed separate lawsuits in West Virginia and Delaware courts, seeking to hold corporate officers responsible for financial losses from the disaster.
The Gazette reported on the audits in its Coal Tattoo blog, explaining in a May 26, 2011, story that Massey lawyers cited the audits in defending the actions of company executives they said had been assured any rock-dusting problems at Upper Big Branch had been fixed.
"After Pavlovich identified a need for improved rock dust application at certain mines, including in certain areas of UBB, the Board was informed that 'remedial action [had been taken] include[ing] [deployment of] additional pod and sling dusters and re-emphasis of existing rock dusting policies and regulatory requirements," the Massey lawyers wrote in a brief in the Delaware suit.
During their Oct. 18 interview, federal officials read the Coal Tattoo post to Pavlovich. MSHA investigator Dean Cripps asked Pavlovich if he made the statement about the rock-dusting problems being fixed.
"Oh, no. Uh-huh," Pavlovich replied, adding that he didn't know who had made those comments.
Cripps told Pavlovich, "I'm trying to find out who made that statement to the board and how they knew that remedial action had been taken."
Pavlovich responded, "I wouldn't have any idea."
Court records, though, include minutes of a Nov. 9, 2009, meeting of the Massey board's Safety, Environmental and Public Policy Committee that attribute to Chamberlin statements identical to those quoted by the company lawyers in the Delaware case.
Citing Chamberlin's report to the committee, the minutes said that Pavlovich's audit had found, "the adequacy of rock dust application was also identified as a weakness." But, the minutes say, "Remedial action included additional track and finger dusters and re-emphasis of existing rock dusting policies and regulatory requirements."
The next day, Nov. 10, Pavlovich went to Upper Big Branch again, and found serious rock-dusting problems in the longwall section.
"No rock dust had been applied to the roof and the ribs had only been rock-dusted by hand," his report said. "The entry had never been machine dusted as the section advanced."
Prior to their interview with Pavlovich, held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Lexington, Ky., MSHA investigators had never seen his Nov. 10 audit of Upper Big Branch. They saw it only when he showed it to them on his laptop computer. Investigators asked for a copy of it. Massey lawyer Eric Silkwood, who sat in on the interview, said, "I don't know if they have a business center here to be able to print it off."
'Efforts were being made'
Three months later, at their February 2010 meeting, Massey board members were given an "executive summary" of the mine safety audits Pavlovich conducted in the previous quarter.
The report said Upper Big Branch "had recent management changes and it was evident that efforts were being made to improve compliance levels."
"The Upper Big Branch Mine had instituted internal safety inspections that were being conducted daily on two shifts by experienced safety personnel to help improve compliance issues," the report said.
In his interview with federal investigators, Pavlovich offered conflicting answers when asked if Massey officials had him follow up on problems he found at the company's mines.
At one point, Pavlovich told investigators, "I did have some safety and mine representatives ask me during a particular visit that, you know, on a previous visit I had found some problems at a particular mine, and they said, 'we've been working there and we want you to go back and look at that mine again for us.'
"That was the local people that asked that," Pavlovich said. "And you know, I never had any problem with that. And no one at the company ever seemed to have a problem if someone asked me to go to a place to help out and try to observe what was there. That was fine."
Later in the interview, though, Pavlovich told investigators, "I don't recall ever going back to see if anything had been corrected, OK.
"Basically, my responsibility in this audit was to observe, to discuss, to accumulate information and then to present that information to management, whether it be verbally or in writing, and any corrective actions were their responsibility, as they would be for anybody," Pavlovich said. "But it was not like I went back to check, OK."
Pavlovich also testified that, "I felt like that they probably had a program in place to respond to those audits.
"I do know that there were even some mine superintendents that were terminated as a result of an audit I did," he said. "I didn't feel good about that, but you know, what happens, happens. So there are certainly people looking at them and paying attention to them or that would have never happened."
Chamberlin's report to the board safety committee said one of the company's "remedial actions" for rock-dusting problems was to add more dusting equipment at its mines.
Pavlovich's audits, though, say that having the proper equipment wasn't the problem. Instead, Pavlovich said that Massey provided good rock-dusting equipment, but didn't have an effective system to ensure the work was done in a timely manner. But in its report on Upper Big Branch, the McAteer team documented broken-down rock-dusting equipment that employees assigned to do that work said never functioned properly.
Pavlovich closed his interview with federal investigators by praising Massey workers and the MSHA employees who were conducting the disaster investigation.
"As far as the employees go, I think they had a lot of very good people working at the mines, hard-working people and a lot of people that tried to do things right," Pavlovich said.
"It's certainly an unfortunate accident," Pavlovich told investigators. "I hate that it happened, and I know a lot of people hate that it happened, including you guys. But we've all got a job to do, and I know you'll do a good job, and I appreciate that."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.