Image Source: Flickr. By: Jamiev_03

It’s been only a week since federal inspectors started their investigation of Massey Energy operations and they’ve already found 60 serious safety violations.

If you haven’t been following the news much lately, an explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine of West Virginia killed 29 miners last week, making it the worst US coal mine disaster since 1970. The mine is owned by Massey Energy and it’s believed the cause of the blast had to do with methane and lack of proper ventilation systems in the mine. Massey Energy has a long history of violations and filing numerous appeals to work around them.

To make matters even more interesting, in the past few months, a number of workers at the mine made numerous complaints and concerned comments about the safety and their well-being while being in the mine. Needless to say, many families, co-workers and friends of the dead miners are rather distraught at this point. One widow even went as far as to file a “wrongful death lawsuit” against the company, accusing the company of a history of safety violations that amount to negligence.

MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) inspectors visited over 30 underground Massey coal mines in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia since the explosion happened. They’ve yet to investigate the Upper Big Branch mine, however, because they must wait for the rest of the poisonous gases to clear out of the mine. Waiting time could be at least another week, so in the meantime they are reviewing records of the mine. MSHA Administrator, Kevin Stricklin, wants people to be aware that they have not been specifically targeting Massey since the blast, nor have they increased the pace of inspections. He stated:

“We’re just going about our regular business. I didn’t give any instructions to go and look at Massey mines.

However, the number of violations found in the past 10 days in Massey’s mines is beyond ridiculous. One example is a conveyor belt problem at their Aracoma Alma No. 1 mine where, coincidentally enough, 2 men were killed in a belt fire in 2006. Another example is at their Solid Energy No. 1 mine in Kentucky. That mine was cited for allowing coal dust to pile up on three different occasions since the West Virginia blast and its believed that an accumulation of coal dust may have been another contributor to the explosion, as well. Stricklin commented:

“I’m very disappointed. You would think that personnel associated with Massey would be really more careful.”

It should be noted that on top of the MSHA routine investigations, there is also further inspections being done by the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training. Nearly 200 underground mines are to be inspected by the office, though it is unknown if they are targeting Massey mines. President Barack Obama also ordered a review of coal mines with poor safety records and stronger mining laws.

There is a small piece of good news, at least. Not all of Massey’s mines have safety violations. There were a few that came up clean after the inspections. The only downside is they only seemed to clean up their act after being threatened with “heightened enforcement” for displaying a pattern of serious violations.

The real shame is, even after 29 workers were killed from an explosion most likely due to safety violations, Massey is still not bothering to clean up their act.