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.