I’m a blogger fellow with Brave New Films on their 16 Deaths Per Day campaign for worker safety.
President Obama just released a statement showing an extreme attentiveness to the Massey Energy mining disaster in Coalmont, West Virginia. He has called for an initial assessment report from federal mine safety officials next week, as well as action items for how to prevent accidents like the one that caused the greatest loss of life in over 25 years.
The President will meet next week with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Mine Safety and Health Administrator Joe Main. He expects them to report on their early assessment of the deadly explosion’s cause, the safety record at the Upper Branch mine, and the steps that the Federal government should take to improve safety enforcement and prevent future tragedies. The Secretary and MSHA Administrator will address safety issues as well as enforcement and legal authorities in their briefing.
There’s a very simple way to make mining safer – put Don Blankenship and Massey Energy out of business. The company’s safety record is appalling, and clearly the CEO cares more about “running coal” than protecting his workers. This really isn’t much of a secret. You can look at the $3 million dollars in fines his company has run up for safety violations, the personal testimony of employees saying that working for Blankenship was “like living under a hammer,” the multiple investor lawsuits criticizing Blankenship and Massey Energy’s safety record or the words from Blankenship himself, saying that he doesn’t like following safety rules:
They’re very difficult to comply with. There’s so many of the laws that are, if you will, nonsensical from an engineering or a coal mining viewpoint. A lot of the politicians, they get emotional, as does the public, about the most recent accident, and it’s easy to get laws on the books that are not truly helping the health or safety of coal miners. I think we need to be very pragmatic and very careful when we’re passing laws of that nature to make sure that we create as much safety and as much health as can be created for each of the resources we expend.
Blankenship really didn’t have to worry about safety rules under the Bush Administration, because the MSHA was basically captured by industry. But with a new sheriff in town, Blankenship finds compliance “onerous.” The employees in the Upper Big Branch mine have quite a bigger burden.
UPDATE: The Upper Big Branch mine has been shuttered 61 times in the last 15 months for safety violations. This is getting close to criminal.