Monday, September 30, 2019


Thomas Benavidez died on June 20, 2010, when a haul truck driver could not see Benavidez's pickup in a blind spot and crushed the smaller vehicle. (Pinal County Sheriff's Office)
This story was published in partnership with The Arizona Republic and USA TODAY.


ORACLE, Arizona — Thomas Benavidez never came home that Father’s Day.
His wife and three children knew he had to work, so they didn’t make plans to celebrate that Sunday. Instead, they spent it trying to confirm rumors of his death that swirled through this Arizona community of fewer than 4,000 people and quickly spread alongside details of a mining accident posted to Facebook.
Police photos from the scene show the flipped pickup truck Benavidez had parked in an open-pit copper mine in 2010. A 240-ton truck the size of a two-story house, designed to lug rock, drove over the smaller vehicle, flattening it. Benavidez, 52, was caught in one of the haul truck’s blind spots and crushed to death.
The mining industry has known for decades about these blind spots and the role they played in dozens of deaths. All the while, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has pushed companies to install readily available and relatively cheap safety features that, it says, could save lives.
Mining companies and trade groups have responded with strong opposition.
A Center for Public Integrity review of MSHA investigative reports, police files and court documents reveals that weak oversight has mixed with mistakes at mines to deadly effect, as the industry and its regulators bicker over proposed rules. Various types of heavy machinery have directly or indirectly been involved in nearly 500 deaths, dozens of them caused by blind spots, at underground and surface mines since 2000, according to MSHA data.
A recent analysis by the agency found that 23 deaths could have been avoided in surface mines alone between 2003 and 2018 if heavy machinery were equipped with safety measures such as backup cameras, proximity sensors or other collision-warning systems.
Benavidez suffered one of those avoidable deaths when a haul truck driver, even after following the mine’s safety protocols, never saw Benavidez’s Chevrolet pickup and drove over it. A mechanic in the seat next to Benavidez was extricated from the vehicle, but with serious injuries.
“Think about having a million blind spots all around you,” Benavidez’s 30-year-old daughter, Amanda, said. “That’s what it’s like to be in one of those. You don’t know what’s right under you.
“These large haulage trucks cost a fortune, but inexpensive camera systems which are currently available, are not required by MSHA,” Davitt McAteer, the head of MSHA during the Clinton administration, wrote in a statement accompanying testimony before Congress in 2007. “In the late 90s, I initiated a voluntary program to encourage operators to install them, and sadly that program has languished in the last several years.”


McAteer blames the industry, particularly the politically powerful National Mining Association, for the lack of progress on blind spot deaths. “Rules can be stalled now by virtue of anything,” he said. “The association’s bread and butter is to stall. That is their whole reason for being.”
The association came out against proposed rules in 2011 and 2015 requiring proximity-detection systems on underground continuous miners and mine vehicles.
In recent, written comments, the trade group acknowledged that such systems could increase safety in surface mines and that some mining companies were using them. But it said more research is needed, and, in general, “rapid introduction of unproven technology can pose unforeseen safety risks.”
In a statement to the Center for Public Integrity, the association said it did not track the extent to which its members employed these safety features, although “safety is the top concern for mining companies.”
State mining associations also wield considerable influence. The Nevada Mining Association, for example, fought the same rules proposing the use of proximity-detection systems, saying the technology wasn’t advanced enough.
“Safety is the highest priority for the Nevada Mining Association and its members,” association president Dana Bennett said in a statement. But she said that retrofitting equipment is difficult because “third-party aftermarket devices have often been found to be complex and have unintended consequences that pose potential risks.”
Read the whole story here>>> Davitt McAteer & Associates

Monday, March 18, 2019

Feds, UBB widow settle in lawsuit that alleged MSHA didn't do its job By Kate Mishkin Staff writer Mar 9, 2019

The federal government will pay $550,000 to settle a lawsuit that alleged it didn’t do its job in preventing the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.
Carolyn Diana Davis, who filed the suit on behalf of her husband, and the United States reached a settlement last week, according to Davis’ attorney, Bruce Stanley. Davis’ husband, Charles Timothy Davis, was killed in the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine, which was operated by Performance Coal, a subsidiary of Massey Energy.
Because the settlement is money funded by taxpayers, it was made public, Stanley said. The settlement is still subject to a public hearing and approval by U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Beckley under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Davis filed the suit on April 5, 2018, the eighth anniversary of the explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County. Davis’ husband was one of the four bodies found by a rescue crew in the headgate entry to the longwall.
The lawsuit cites reports from the Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel, which said MSHA knew about UBB’s faulty ventilation system and yet ignored warning signs. The panel, led by former MSHA Assistant Secretary of Labor J. Davitt McAteer, found four failures: The mine had a history of methane-related events; it had ventilation issues MSHA knew about; MSHA was required to sample rock dust; and MSHA failed to “see the entire picture,” the report says.
The federal government’s own Independent Panel Assessment also found MSHA “failed to adequately perform its duties at UBB, and that this failure had a casual relationship to the explosion,” the complaint states.
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration didn’t “exercise reasonable care” and breached its responsibility to Charles Timothy Davis by “failing to inspect and/or report numerous blatant, fundamental and grave violations of generally accepted coal mine safety standards,” the complaint states.
The federal government filed a motion to dismiss in response, saying Davis never cited any specific directives that MSHA employees violated.

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