Kentucky Miner Videotapes Safety Hazard, Receives Reprimand

When Kentucky coal miner, Charles Scott Howard, played an eye-catching videotape last year that showed barriers so cracked that water gushed through them, he prompted a federal investigation that led to citations against his employer.

Barriers constructed to seal off abandoned sections of underground coal mines are supposed to be impenetrable so that explosive methane gas can’t seep into working areas.

What Howard didn’t expect was to receive a written reprimand for violating company policy against taking a video camera into the underground mine where he works.

Howard filed a federal complaint Wednesday with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission alleging that he was improperly sanctioned by Cumberland River Coal Co. for documenting unsafe working conditions.

A veteran miner, Howard played the video during a U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration public hearing in Lexington last July. After the hearing, federal inspectors went to the mine and issued citations. After the citations, Howard said the company sanctioned him for “taking a non-permissible video camera underground.”

Lexington attorney Tony Oppegard, representing Howard, said the company shouldn’t be allowed to punish a miner for documenting unsafe conditions. Oppegard, who provided a copy of the complaint to The Associated Press, is asking that the reprimand be removed from Howard’s personnel file and that Cumberland River Coal managers be ordered to undergo training about the rights of miners to document unsafe working conditions.