Coal companies clearly bear responsibility for safety in their mines. With any business, the buck stops with top management.
But while much has been written and said about Massey Energy Co.’s alleged lapses at a mine where 29 men died, a thorough investigation of mine safety should not stop with coal company executives. It also should probe safety practices among miners and their foremen.
The men and women who dig coal have vested interests in safety. If shortcuts are taken, if safety rules are not followed to the letter, the consequences can be tragic.
A foreman at the Federal No. 2 Mine near Fairview admitted in federal court that he had falsified safety reports. John Renner of Granville admitted that he wrote down numbers for methane and oxygen levels in a sealed area of the mine in January — but did not actually inspect the area.
Methane is being blamed as the cause of the explosion that killed 29 miners at Montcoal. Renner will be sentenced later this year.
His is not the first report of safety failures involving foremen and others working inside mines.
In January 2006, two men died in a fire at another Massey mine, this one in Logan County. The blaze broke out on a conveyor belt used to transport coal out of the mine.
According to a published report, state mine safety Director Ron Wooten wanted to rescind the licenses of some foremen at the mine, but was not able to do so because of an ongoing criminal investigation.
That news, along with Renner’s admission that he falsified safety reports, should be troubling to the tens of thousands of men and women who labor inside West Virginia coal mines. If true, allegations against some foremen and others mean that those with whom miners work, sometimes shoulder to shoulder, are placing lives at risk.
It needs to be noted that the overwhelming majority of mine foremen appear to do their jobs well and conscientiously. Most mines are safe, in large measure because of that dedication.
But a few bad apples can put scores, sometimes hundreds, of miners at risk. We urge both state and federal officials to ensure that new investigations of mine safety include those who have not just day-to-day responsibility for safety, but also those whose job it is on a minute-to-minute basis.
— The Inter-Mountain, Elkins, W.Va.