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Mine safety agency internal review admits they missed problems at Upper Big Branch mine

07 March 2012

The Mine Safety and Health Administration’s internal report into West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine disaster, where 29 miners were killed in an April 2010 explosion, admits the agency should have done better but denied they contributed to the tragedy.

MSHA director Joe Main said officials are reviewing the report, but have already made changes
MSHA director Joe Main said officials are reviewing the report, but have already made changes

The 200 page report contains about 20 pages of recommendations for regulatory and administrative changes. MSHA director Joe Main said officials are reviewing the report, but have already made changes.

MSHA has increased inspections, provided additional training, simplified its inspection manual and clarified some of its policies, according to Main.

The report found inspectors failed to identify safety problems in parts of the mine and blamed budgetary constraints and a wave of retirements for depleting the team of inspectors charged with monitoring it. It blames supervisors for failing to "provide adequate oversight of inspections and investigations" and says officials missed entire sections of the mine during inspections.

Inspectors did not always review the mine's examination record books despite "hundreds of entries documenting the amount of time hazards existed without corrective actions," the report states.

Other problems included poor communications between federal officials and field-level inspectors in MSHA's District 4 region, which covers southern West Virginia.

But Main defended district inspectors, noting that they issued more safety violations than any other region in the country, including 684 at Upper Big Branch in 2009 alone.

He and others continued to blame former mine operator Massey Energy Co., which Main said used advanced warnings to alert underground miners of inspections, falsified safety records and intimidated miners to keep them from complaining about dangerous conditions.

Federal and independent investigators have concluded the explosion was due to company negligence and a leadership team that recklessly valued profit over safety.

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