"It started, you know, from the MSHA inspectors coming on the property," May testified under oath. "Sometimes they would tell us, you know, they'd be back tomorrow or where they were going. And it went from there to telling everybody that was outside, you know, just scatter word by mouth on the phone, and they would tell whoever was underground.
"It's just something that happened from the time I got there until after I left and happened at every mine I've ever been to," May told Berger.
Berger pressed May on the matter, and asked him after May conferred with his lawyer, "When you said earlier that it began with inspectors coming onto the property and saying, 'We'll be back tomorrow,' was it or was it not your intention to indicate that these inspectors were part of the conspiracy that you've told me about Mr. May?"
May responded, "I don't believe it's a conspiracy, but I think, in my opinion, if they would let me know that [an inspection was planned], I would let everyone else know that."
The federal Mine Safety and Health Act makes it clear that, in carrying out its inspection duties, MSHA is not to provide advance notice of inspections to anyone. Agency policy mandates that "any information relating to inspection and investigation schedules" be restricted solely to MSHA personnel who have a need for such information.
Federal law also makes it a crime for anyone to give advance notice of any MSHA inspection. Anyone convicted of doing so can face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
In the wake of Upper Big Branch, MSHA officials have focused on what they say was Massey's intentional program of security guards giving underground crews advance notice of inspections. MSHA concluded that such warnings allowed Massey to cover up unsafe conditions at Upper Big Branch, and were a major contributing factor in the April 5, 2010, explosion.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.