The West Virginia coal mine explosion that took 29 miners’ lives in 2010 and spurred plenty of safety reforms but a governor’s task force report on the disaster said they were not enough as more changes must still take place.
The report, released last week to the state Legislature’s Labor and Worker Safety Issues Committee, said the tragedy was “manmade and could have been prevented” by the mine owner, Massey Energy.
It recommended use of black-box technology like that used in planes and cars to record critical data on the amount of oxygen, methane, carbon monoxide and coal dust in the underground mines.
The report said computerized monitoring of air quality, air quantity and air flow should be a requirement to alert miners and government inspectors to potential explosion problems.
Earlier investigations attributed the Upper Big Branch explosion to sparks from a mining machine that ignited a buildup of methane gas and coal dust. They concluded that poor ventilation also contributed to the unsafe conditions.
“Basic, well-tested and historically proven safety procedures” could have saved the lives of the miners trapped 1,000-feet below the ground when the explosion occurred, said the governor’s report. “Miners’ right to a safe workplace is compromised when a commitment to production comes at the cost of safety.”
As a result of the explosion, changes initiated by mine operators and government rules include mine inspectors using meters to measure concentrations of coal dust, rather than gauge it by sight. Machines that scrape coal from underground walls shut off automatically if they overheat or malfunction. Daily inspections are more thorough, and escape routes more clearly marked.
Still, the governor’s task force, said several other changes are needed to improve safety.
One of the suggestions is quarterly reports to government regulators on mine safety, and criminal charges against the mine owner’s board of directors if a mine ends up certified in compliance with safety rules when it is not.