If sworn testimony heard by a federal official is true, a state mining inspector committed the unspeakable act of “outing” miners who reported life-threatening safety violations at an underground mine in Harlan County.
In testimony before an administrative law judge, D&C Mining Corp. superintendent Barry Rogers admitted to being informed by a state inspector of the identity of two miners believed responsible for a complaint that led to the mine being shut down until a leaking water seal was fixed. The incident occurred in September 2009 and resulted in the firings of both miners, Chad Alex Green and William Donnie Smith.
Earlier this week, Green and Smith were reinstated to their jobs by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission judge who heard Rogers’s testimony. Judge Janet G. Harner ordered D&C Mining to pay a $20,000 penalty for discriminating against Green and Smith. She is also requiring the company to pay the miners a total of nearly $19,000 in lost wages.
Harner’s ruling is the latest in a series of findings in Kentucky mine safety cases that demonstrate the high level of protection afforded to miners under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act. As egregious as it may be that any miner would be fired for calling attention to a potentially serious safety violation, even worse is the fact — if proven true — that a mine safety inspector would sell out the very miners whose lives he was hired to protect.
Mine safety attorney Tony Oppegard, who represents Green and Smith, said he will formally ask the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing to open an investigation into whether one of its inspectors told Superintendent Rogers that either Green or Smith told Oppegard about the violation and that it was Oppegard who referred the matter to state and federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors. Given the inclusion of testimony given by Rogers in Judge Harner’s finding, there is no need for state officials to wait on Oppegard’s letter. If the charges are found to be true, the offending inspector must be fired immediately and a formal apology issued to Green and Smith on behalf of the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing.
Anything less would be an insult.