Slap On The Wrist

Ken AshfordCorporate GreedLeave a Comment

In a story related to the one below (in which the U.S. government pays Halliburton’s overcharges), we learn how our government is abdicating responsibility for making mines safe.

USA Today reports how the fines assessed on Sago Mine (the West Virginia mine which collapsed last month, killing 12) were minimal.  Not the number of violations — there were plenty of those.  But for each violation, it was assumed that the safety of only one miner was jeopardized, thereby minimizing the fine:

• On Aug. 16, 2005, an inspector found a main escape path "obstructed by concrete blocks." On Nov. 8, 2005, an escapeway was "not being maintained in a safe condition to assure passage of anyone." Sago got six citations for blocking escapeways miners use to flee a fire or explosion. Each citation said one miner was endangered. The mine paid $60 fines for two violations. The amounts of the four other fines are being decided.

• On Aug. 16, 2005, an inspector found "chemical smoke" being blown toward areas where two mining teams were working. A team typically has eight to 10 miners. The citation said one miner was endangered. A fine is being determined.

• Sago was cited for 22 violations from July 2004 to December 2005 for "accumulation of combustible materials" — coal dust and coal chunks that can spread fires and explosions. All 22 violations said one miner was endangered. MSHA fined the mine a total of $1,768 for 17 violations and is deciding fines for the five others.

"If you have coal dust in the air, that becomes part of the explosion," says Robert Ferriter, director of mine safety training at the Colorado School of Mines. "That would certainly affect more than one person. That would affect everybody in the area."