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Deaths of Workers in Massey Energy Mines Raise Safety Concerns

April 6, 2010

Our Santa Ana, California Labor and Employment Lawyers have been following the tragic news of the massive explosion on Monday afternoon at the Upper Big Branch South Mine, in Whitesville, West Virginia leading to the workplace death of twenty-five miners--which according to federal officials and other miners, might have been preventable.

The Massey Energy Company, owner of the Upper Big Branch Mine, has reportedly received sharp criticism and fines from regulators over its environmental and safety records. Although the cause of the explosion has not been determined, some say that a buildup of methane gas is often a cause for mine blasts. As Massey Energy's health and safety records are being questioned, so are the laws governing workers in the mining industry--to find out why this disaster was not preventable.

The New York Times reported that Kevin Stricklin, an administrator for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), claimed that from the magnitude of this explosion, it is clear that something very wrong happened here. This explosion was the worst mining accident seen in 25 years, and that all explosions are preventable.

Four people are still missing in the mine, and rescue teams have been unable to search for the miners because the high quantities of noxious gases, that could cause another explosion. Monday's mine blast is being investigated by the MSHA.

Massey is reported to be largest producer of coal in the Central Appalachia, run by Don L. Blankenship, Massey's chief executive. According to local miners, has been evacuated three times in the past two months for having dangerously high methane levels. Federal records also show that the mine was fined as recently as last month for having problems with the ventilation. In the month of March, the MSHA cited the mine for over 50 safety violations, including high levels of methane and coal dust.

A subcontractor electrician told the New York Times that the mine has been dangerous for years. Andrew Tyler claimed that wires had been regularly left exposed and that the dangerous buildup of methane and coal dust was overlooked. He also claimed that miners were forced into overtime, working 12-hour shifts--four hours more than the legal industry standard of eight hours.

According to the New York Times, in 2008 one of Massey's subsidiaries Aracoma Coal Company pleaded guilty to safety violations, after two miners suffocated to death a mine fire. Federal prosecutors have called this the largest coal industry settlement in history, with $4.2 million in criminal fines and civil penalties. Massey was also fined by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008 for clean water violations, and paid $20 million.

At Howard Law, PC, our Labor and Employment Lawyers are knowledgeable about defending health and safety violations in the workplace, in Orange County and throughout Southern California. Contact us today for a free consultation at 1-800-872-5925.

MSHA Appoints Team to Investigate Upper Big Branch South Mine Explosion, MSHA- New Release, 04-07-10

Deaths at W.Va. Coal Mine Raise Safety Issues, New York Times, April 6, 2010

Miners' Families Grapple With the News, and The Pain, The New York Times, April 6, 2010

Related Web Resources:

Unites States Department of Labor: Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA)