Thursday, December 20, 2018

Injury rates jump at coal giant Murray's West Virginia mines, Richard Valdmanis, Valerie Volcovici

(Reuters) - Injury rates have more than doubled at five West Virginia coal mines acquired by Murray Energy Corp. in 2013, according to a Reuters review of federal data, as the firm sharply increased the amount of coal produced per manhour.

Although injuries and productivity rates rose over the same period, the causes of the increase in injuries remain unknown and could include a host of factors in the complex business of underground coal mining.
Murray - the nation’s largest underground coal mining company with about 6,000 employees producing more than 60 million tonnes of coal annually - bought the mines from rival CONSOL Energy. Those mines now account for more than half the firm’s production.
Murray controls six other mines - in Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, and Utah - and each has an injury rate below the national average, according to the data. The company has won numerous safety awards in recent years, including from the U.S. government’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in 2015.
Davitt McAteer, a mine safety expert in West Virginia who had directed MSHA under former President Bill Clinton, said that many factors could have played into the increased injury rates at the Murray mines in West Virginia.
“Those particular mines are decades old, meaning miners are having to work deeper, more complicated coal seams, with aging equipment and infrastructure,” he said, adding that such conditions are more dangerous for workers. Davitt McAteer & Associates

Who Is Caring For The Health And Safety Of Coal Miners?

Coal miner Doug Rutherford takes a break after his shift at a small mine on May 19, 2017 outside the city of Welch, West Virginia.
A multi-year investigation published by Frontline and NPR reached devastating conclusions about the outbreak of advanced black lung disease affecting Appalachia.
The report found that federal government regulators failed to respond to warning signs ahead of the outbreak. Regulators were “were urged to take specific and direct action to stop it.” But they didn’t.
From the story:
It’s an “epidemic” and “clearly one of the worst industrial medicine disasters that’s ever been described,” said Scott Laney, an epidemiologist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
“We’re counting thousands of cases,” he said. “Thousands and thousands and thousands of black lung cases. Thousands of cases of the most severe form of black lung. And we’re not done counting yet.”
The reporters spoke to Danny Smith, who spent about 12 years underground in the mines. His father suffered from the same disease.
Charles Shortridge, Diagnosed with black lung disease, worked in the mines for over 25 years.
Howard Berkes, Correspondent – Investigations, NPR, @hberkes
Davitt McAteer, Former Assistant Secretary, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), 1993-2000, retired attorney
Amy Harder, Reporter covering energy and climate, Axios; former reporter, The Wall Street Journal; @AmyAHarder
For more, visit
© 2018 WAMU 88.5 – American University Radio. Davitt McAteer & Associates

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

An Epidemic Is Killing Thousands Of Coal Miners. Regulators Could Have Stopped It--NPR

An Epidemic Is Killing Thousands Of Coal Miners. Regulators Could Have Stopped It Davitt McAteer & Associates

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Update: 3 missing found alive in Raleigh County, WV, mine--WV NEWS

CLEAR CREEK — Officials with the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety & Training said Wednesday evening that three people who have been in a mine in Raleigh County since Sunday have been located.
Efforts were underway to get the people out of the mine, and transport them for medical treatment, according to a release from the state Department of Commerce.
Reports came in earlier Wednesday afternoon that progress had been made in rescue teams' advancements into the Rock House Powellton Mine in Clear Creek.
Rescuers who entered the mine through an entrance in Raleigh County — near which an ATV was found Sunday, kicking off the search — had progressed around 4,000 feet into the mine, according to another release. The teams had established a fresh air base and continued to explore the mine Wednesday.
However, teams had been unable to enter the mine through the main entrance located nearby in Boone County, according to the release. Crews on the surface continued to pump water out of and air into the mine Wednesday, but the water was still too deep to traverse.
An update from the department Wednesday morning said one team had been set to go into the Boone entrance and two teams for the Raleigh entrance.
READ THE FULL STORY HERE>>> Davitt McAteer & Associates

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

What Might Have Prevented The Soma Mining Disaster? Davitt McAteer:NPR Interview Middle East, Turkey

Since the mine explosion in Soma, Turkey, May 2014, Davitt McAteer has been looking into what went wrong. He's the former head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, and he addresses the tragedy.

Read the entire transcript here>>> Davitt McAteer & Associates

Davitt McAteer on Massey Report: Probe Finds Company Systemically Failed to Comply with Law 1 of 2

Davitt McAteer on Massey Report: Probe Finds Company Systemically Failed Comply with Law 1 of 2 - In independent state probe in West Virginia reports that mining giant, Massey Energy, was responsible for the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 underground coal mining workers. In stark language, the report concludes: "The story of Upper Big Branch is a cautionary tale of hubris. A company that was a towering presence in the Appalachian coal fields operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner, and 29 coal miners paid with their lives for the corporate risk taking." The probe was overseen by J. Davitt McAteer, a former top federal mine safety official. It echoes preliminary findings by federal investigators earlier this year that Massey repeatedly violated federal rules on ventilation and minimizing coal dust to reduce the risk of explosion, and rejects Massey's claim that a burst of gas from a hole in the mine floor was at fault. The report also notes Massey's strong political influence, which it uses "to attempt to control West Virginia's political system" and regulatory bodies. For more on the report, Democracy Now! interviews J. Davitt McAteer. Part 2 of the interview can be found here: To watch the entire interview, read the complete transcript, download the video/audio podcast, and for Democracy Now!'s news archive on coal mining and the consequences of burning coal for electricity, visit Davitt McAteer & Associates

Associated Press-Davitt McAteer: Expert: Mining Disasters Do Not Have to Happen

A mine safety expert who worked in the Clinton administration says the country needs to do more to ensure mine safety. J. Davitt McAteer says some mining companies contest safety issues, counting fines as a cost of business. (April 6) Davitt McAteer & Associates

Morgan Arts Council- Davitt McAteer Interview

This Week in Morgan County, which is hosted by Russell Mokhiber, is a weekly interview series addressing issues affecting the citizens of Morgan County, West Virginia. Our guest this episode is Davitt McAteer, Author of Monongah, the Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster, the Worst Industrial Accident in US History. This program is a production of the Digital Media Center for Community Engagement. Copyright 2018 Morgan Arts Council. Davitt McAteer & Associates

Report: Massey Energy to Blame for West Virginia Mining Disaster, West Virginia Public Radio

Investigations into last year’s coal mine disaster in West Virginia that killed 29 people have found the mine owner squarely responsible. The former federal mine safety chief Davitt McAteer led the investigation into the worst American mining disaster in 40 years. Jessica Lilly, reporter for West Virginia Public Radio shares the on the community's reaction. Davitt McAteer & Associates

Coal Fatalities Rise: Miner Deaths Increase Amid Low Coal Employment By: Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource Posted on: Friday, September 1, 2017

Coal Fatalities Rise: Miner Deaths Increase Amid Low Coal Employment

A rash of fatal coal mining accidents in the Ohio Valley region pushed the nation’s total number of mining deaths to a level not seen since 2015, sparking concern among safety advocates.
Already this year 12 miners have died on the job in the U.S., compared to eight fatalities in all of 2016. Two miners were killed in Kentucky and six in West Virginia.
Mine safety experts say this spike in fatal accidents is troubling because it comes at a time when far fewer miners are working compared to recent years, and during a presidential administration pressing to rapidly increase coal production and roll back regulations.
At a rally last month in Huntington, West Virginia, President Trump returned to a favorite theme.
“I love our coal miners and they’re coming back strong,” Trump said.
Mining employment has increased slightly since Trump took office. But veteran mine safety advocate Davitt McAteer said he worries that a coal comeback brings risks for miners. McAteer led the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, during the Clinton administration, and has conducted investigations of mining disasters since then.
“You don’t want to bring them back and send miners to their deaths because you’re not paying attention to safety,” McAteer said. “I’m very much in favor of bringing the miners back. It’s a question of, are they brought back in a way that protects them?”
Last year was the safest in the country’s coal mining history, with eight fatalities. The 12 fatalities so far this year match the total from 2015, a year when there were nearly 25,000 more people employed by coal companies, according to MSHA data.

That has mine safety experts like McAteer concerned. They point to a few factors that could be contributing to a rise in mining deaths: an increase in inexperienced miners, a possible turn away from strict safety enforcement, and a leadership void in the nation’s top mine safety agency.

Safety Vacancy

McAteer noted that for the first seven months of the Trump administration there was no one in the position he once held at MSHA.
“For that position to go vacant says we’re not paying attention to this. And in fact conditions like we’re seeing in West Virginia and across the country, of increased fatalities, come about when we’re not paying attention,” McAteer said.
President Trump appointed Congressional aide and White House advisor Wayne Palmer acting secretary of MSHA on August 22, until a permanent appointment is made. The United Mine Workers of America said in a statement that Palmer has no experience in mining or health and safety.
On September 2, the White House announced the president’s intent to appoint a West Virginia coal company executive to the top MSHA post. David Zatezalo was a top executive at Rhino Resources, which operates mines in West Virginia and Kentucky.The  company was the focus of MSHA scrutiny following what regulators called a pattern of violations and a miner’s death at one mine and allegations of interference in mine inspections at another.
Although the agency lacks a leader, it has announced a new approach to safety: what’s called a “compliance assistance” program. An agency data analysis showed that inexperienced miners were more likely to be injured or killed. Seven of the fatalities this year have involved miners who had one year or less experience at the mine where they died.

in response, MSHA said in June it would “encourage mine operators to participate and share information” about new miners on the job.
That raises a red flag for Kentucky lawyer and mine safety advocate Tony Oppegard.
“Every time there is this de-emphasis on enforcement and an emphasis on ‘compliance assistance’ the fatality rate always goes up,” Oppegard said.

Compliance assistance

Oppegard said the main job for MSHA and its inspectors is to enforce the laws and regulations at mines, and the majority of coal mining deaths are caused by violations of safety regulations.
“You know, it’s hard to pinpoint anytime why there are fatalities, but almost every coal mining fatality is preventable. There are very few that you can truly call a fluke,” Oppegard said.
Lexington, KY, attorney and safety advocate Tony Oppegard. (Courtesy Tony Oppegard)
Lexington, KY, attorney and safety advocate Tony Oppegard. (Courtesy Tony Oppegard)
Oppegard said compliance assistance was the approach MSHA tried during the George W. Bush administration, with mixed results. That eight-year period saw some improvements in safety. But the era was also marked by numerous mine disasters, including the Sago disaster in West Virginia and the Darby explosion in Kentucky, which together took 17 lives.
The UMWA also expressed skepticism about the assistance approach.
“The UMWA is not and never has been in favor of so-called ‘compliance assistance’ programs, and this one is no different,” UMWA President Cecil Roberts wrote. Roberts said MSHA is giving mine operators leeway to select who can participate in the program, something he warned will undermine effectiveness of safety training. And he complained that the MSHA change came without notice to the union.
“Despite our 127-year history of dealing with mine safety issues and developing solutions to those issues, MSHA failed to reach out to us at all with respect to developing this program.
An MSHA spokesperson declined an interview request for this story. There are indications that the agency is continuing with some Obama-era initiatives intended to increase enforcement and inspections.
For example, as of July, MSHA was still using a targeted enforcement program established in 2010 in the wake of the mining disaster at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. Those “impact inspections” focus on mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement and included inspections in Kentucky and West Virginia this year.
Work safety researcher Celeste Monforton. (Courtesy Celeste Monforton)
Work safety researcher Celeste Monforton. (Courtesy Celeste Monforton)
Celeste Monforton is a former MSHA official and occupational health researcher at George Washington University and Texas State University. She said the balance between strict enforcement and assistance by the agency will vary with different administrations.
“You know one administration, a Democratic administration, is interested in enforcement and wants to do enforcement. And a Republican administration wants to do compliance assistance,” she said. “But in reality my experience has been that administrations do both.”
Monforton said compliance assistance is an important part of what regulators do. However, it should not take the place of the mine inspections required by the law.
“What we want to avoid and what we need to pay attention to is if compliance assistance is supplanting enforcement,” Monforton said.
Monforton added that while any death is one too many, the longer statistical trend still shows improved safety over the years.

State Changes

McAteer said West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is uniquely positioned to help. The Governor has been involved in the coal mining industry for about 24 years.
“So he is in a specifically opportune position to be able to make that turn-around, whereas others who might not have the background don’t have that kind of industry contact and he’s in a position to make that happen,” McAtteer said.
One of the mine fatalities this year happened in a coal mine owned by Justice’s family. And MSHA has issued citations for safety violations. The Governor did not respond to requests
for comment.

Some changes at the state level have drawn criticism from safety advocates. A new law this year disbanded a Kentucky mining board responsible for reviewing training and safety regulations for coal miners.
Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Communications Director John Mura said the mining board was abolished in order to avoid duplication of effort and to save money. He said its duties are still carried out by another body.
Legislators in Kentucky and West Virginia considered, but later turned down, bills that would have reduced the amount of state mine inspections.
Stand down for safety

McAteer said the current increase in fatalities is reason for the mining industry to stop production temporarily in order to re-evaluate safety procedures.
“By having a stand down, where you for hours or for a day stopped production and you say, ‘Let’s take a look at this, because we don’t want to lose any more miners,” McAteer said. “We know how to mine safely and we need to be addressing if there are problems that crop up.”

McAteer said a renewed focus on safety is especially important if the Trump administration aims to fulfill its pledge to ramp up coal production. Davitt McAteer & Associates