The recent settlement with the owners of Massey Energy over the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia raised more anger on the part of the families of the 29 victims.
Alpha Natural Resources bought Massey after the explosion that was rated the worst mine disaster in 40 years. My colleague Rebecca Mallett also has an excellent analysis of the mine disaster in her post on the anniversary of the explosion. She lays out Massey’s record of safety violations, and the Mining Safety and Health Administration’s equally poor record of weak oversight.
Families are upset that it is unlikely no Massey executives will go to jail for what they see are willful examples of criminal negligence. According to The New York Times:
“Under the federal mine act, safety violations, with the exception of falsifying records, are categorized as misdemeanors. That limitation that could make it hard to build a case against senior managers, like Don Blankenship, the former chief executive of Massey, lawyers said.”
Mining is a dangerous industry, but modern mining companies can improve their safety records with new technology as well as by following existing safety procedures. The price for productivity shouldn’t be loss of life. If the Massey settlement results in anything, let it at least be a change in the way mining companies perceive safety; not as an impediment to profit and productivity but an aid to it.
Maybe then something positive can come out of this tragedy.