West Virginia’s Massey Coal Mine Cited for 2007 Accident

March 20, 2008

Massey Energy Co. is facing fines for safety violations that state inspectors say contributed to a fatal accident at a West Virginia coal mine.

Miner David Neal suffered critical injuries after falling about 39 feet from a conveyer belt at Massey’s Stockton mine in Kanawha County on Dec. 4. The 57-year-old Dixie resident died 10 days later.

Neal was lying on an above-ground belt, replacing rollers and fell when it started unexpectedly, according to a report presented to the state Board of Coal Mine Health & Safety on Tuesday.

Electric power to the belt wasn’t cut off before Neal started work, but state inspector Clarence Dishmon said investigators couldn’t determine how the belt was turned on. Only Neal and a rookie miner were on the conveyer and neither were near on-off controls. A dispatcher who also could control the belt said it turned on while he glanced away from a monitoring system.

“You can’t start it accidentally,” Dishmon said. “Nobody admits to starting the belt.”

State regulations require miners to make that impossible whenever a person is repairing a conveyer. But investigators found that Neal and his co-worker didn’t take any of several steps to make sure the power was off and the belt was locked in place.

“They made no attempt to do anything,” Dishmon said.

If they had, Neal and his co-worker would have found a broken power supply switch, making it necessary for a certified electrician cut off the electricity, Dishmon said.

The broken switch led to a citiation for one of four violations that contributed to the accident, according to the report. Massey also was cited because Neal wasn’t wearing a safety belt or lanyard while working 52 feet above the ground, the power wasn’t turned off and the belt locked out, and an alarm designed to sound when the belt starts moving was broken.

“One thing we’ve done is try to re-educate the work force,” Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater said. That re-education has focused on locking and tagging procedures and the use of safety harnesses, he said.

“We just want to make sure the rest of the work force understood what was required and how to do it.”

Massey also agreed to correct several problems, including making sure power circuits are turned off and locked when repairs are made. Signs are to be posted to remind workers of the lock-out procedure.

Nine people died as a result of coal mine accidents in West Virginia in 2007.

Nationwide, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s Web site lists five coal mining deaths so far this year.

The agency says 33 miners nationwide died as a result of accidents last year. That compares to 47 miners who were killed in 2006, 23 killed in 2005 and 28 killed in 2004.

Massey is the nation’s fourth-largest coal producer by revenue and operates 19 mining complexes in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia. Its stock closed up $2.78, or 8.55 percent, to $35.28 on Tuesday.

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