Thursday, April 8, 2010

Workplace Deaths Are A Tragedy, But Hardly Uncommon

There was an massive explosion in a West Virginia mine that killed 25 miners last Monday.

As more details emerge about the conditions of the mine and the mining company's safety record, it doesn't paint a pretty picture: (Think Progress)

Since 1995, Massey’s Upper Big Branch-South Mine has been cited for 3,007 safety violations. Massey is contesting 353 violations, and 127 are delinquent. [MSHA]

Massey is contesting over a third (34.7%) of the 516 safety citations the Upper Big Branch-South Mine received in 2009, its greatest count in the last 15 years. [MSHA]

In March 2010, 53 new safety citations were issued for Massey’s Upper Big Branch-South Mine, including violations of its mine ventilation plan. [MSHA]

Massey is now contesting $1,128,833 in fines for safety violations at the deadly Upper Big Branch-South Mine, with a further $246,320 in delinquent fines:

Over $2.2 million in fines have been assessed against Massey’s Upper Big Branch-South Mine since 1995, with $791,327 paid. Massey is contesting $1,128,833 in fines. Massey’s delinquent fines total $246,320. [MSHA]

Massey is contesting $251,613 in fines for citations for Upper Big Branch-South Mine’s ventilation plan. [MSHA]

As if that wasn't bad enough, the CEO of Massey Energy sounds almost cartoonishly evil in his willingness to ignore safety regulations:

The country’s highest-paid coal executive, Blankenship is a villain ripped straight from the comic books: a jowly, mustache-sporting, union-busting coal baron who uses his fortune to bend politics to his will. He recently financed a $3.5 million campaign to oust a state Supreme Court justice who frequently ruled against his company, and he hung out on the French Riviera with another judge who was weighing an appeal by Massey. “Don Blankenship would actually be less powerful if he were in elected office,” Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia once observed. “He would be twice as accountable and half as feared.”

Over the two years through 2001 Massey was cited by West Virginia officials for violating regulations 501 times. Its three biggest rivals, mining twice as much coal in the state as Massey, were cited a collective 175 times. [CEO Don] Blankenship says Massey is unfairly targeted by regulators.
“We don’t pay much attention to the violation count,” he says.
As upsetting as this is, it is nothing new for the coal industry, or as was pointed out by Laura Clawson, many other workers throughout the county. As stunning as this figure may be, an average of 16 workers die on the job each day in the United States:

The reason for such an appalling numbers of workplace deaths is not a mystery. The fines and punishments that follow on the job deaths are so minuscule that corporation would often rather pay the fine than worry about implementing safety regulations that could have saved lives.

There will always be Don Blankenships out there willing to risk the lives of others in order to turn a bigger profit. Unless we make rules that force those bad actors out of the equation, it's only an incentive for them to keep up their dangerous practices and continue to risk the lives of their employees in the process.

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