CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Profits over people. Call it the silent killer. The recent investigation into the death of 29 miners at the Massy Upper Big Branch Mine has proven profits over people kills.
The Mine Safety Health Administration reported June 29 that Massey maintained two sets of safety records. One set was used internally and contained known safety hazards and their impact on coal production. But the second "official" set, which is reviewed by mine safety inspectors -- as well as miners before every shift -- didn't mention many of these safety hazards. MSHA announced that Massey Energy "could and should have prevented" the tragic explosion last April at its Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia that killed 29 workers.
In its presentation, MSHA officials accused Upper Big Branch Mine upper management of intimidation of miners and threatening to fire first line management for not meeting production goals. Safety hazards such as insufficient air were not acceptable excuses for not meeting production goals, MSHA investigators claimed. "A section foreman was fired for delaying production for about an hour to fix ventilation problems," investigators found.
"Miners who worried about conditions at the mine would not complain due to fear of retribution," MSHA observed. Meanwhile, "examiners were pressured not to list hazards in the books".
MSHA also documented a pattern of intimidation at the mine. According to Kevin Stricklin, the coal mine safety chief at the agency:
Unions are under assault on many fronts, but this is an example of why all workers need a union. Many workers don't understand that protections they now enjoy in their non-union workplaces were fought for by unions in the past.
If Massey had been unionized, the workers would have had the chance to conduct their own inspections by a democratically elected Safety Committee of miners from that mine. They could have enforced the "safety first" goal spelled out in the United Mine Workers contract. UMW miners have meetings with mine management without fear of reprisal to avoid such tragedies.
Musgrave is a member of UMW Local 1189 of Boonville, Ind.