Inspectors: Negligence found at W.Va. mine

April 23, 2010 at 12:30 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 23 (UPI) -- Handwritten notes indicate federal safety inspectors found negligence at a West Virginia mine months before an explosion killed 29 miners in early April.

Federal safety officials who inspected Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine in January said senior managers displayed "reckless disregard" for worker safety by telling a foreman to ignore a citation for faulty ventilation, the notes made available to The Washington Post indicated.

The notes said the president and a vice president of Massey Energy's Performance Coal subsidiary told a foreman at the Upper Big Branch mine "not to worry about it" when he discussed the ventilation problem cited by federal mine safety inspectors several weeks earlier, the Post reported Friday.

The ventilation problem cited in January was repaired, but inspectors looking into the cause of the deadly blast April 5 are focusing on ventilation issues that could have contributed to a buildup of combustible and toxic methane and coal dust.

In the notes, inspectors said a mine employee told them a serious ventilation problem had not been repaired because Performance Coal President Christopher Blanchard and Vice President Jamie Ferguson instructed a foreman to disregard the issue.

"(The) operator has shown a reckless disregard of care to the miners on this section and (eligible) men that use this escape way," one inspector said. "I believe the operator has shown high negligence due to fact of management knowing where problem is."

A Massey spokesman, in a statement, said the company instructed "counsel and mine experts to conduct a full evaluation of events and it would be premature to comment on specific violations before they have had time to finish."

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