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After disaster, what’s next?

April 8, 2010

It’s become clear that the tragedy of the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia could have been avoided.  The company that owns the mine, Massey Energy, knew that the mine wasn’t up to code, but rather than fix the problem, they chose to fight the fines levied by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) instead.

“Methane gas explosions have been around as long as coal mining has been in business,” said Ian Greaves, chair of the public health department at Temple University. “The means to prevent such explosions have been long established and known to all miners and mine operators.  Massey Energy was warned recently that methane levels were too high.  Given all of that knowledge, it is disturbing that the company appears to have failed to provide the necessary safe working conditions.”

Greaves

Greaves, who’s expertise is in occupational health, said that while it may take months for facts about the disaster to full emerge, the public should expect to see wrongful death suits brought against the company by the families of the miners, as well as the filing of criminal charges if OSHA determines that the company was negligent.

Still, despite the horrible outcome of this disaster, Greaves said it could lay the framework for change in the mining industry.

“Major workplace disasters like this one have often led to stronger regulatory efforts and increased legislation aimed at reducing fatalities in the mining industry,” he said.

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