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Massey's Aracoma Alma #1 mine "set up to be a death trap," UMWA President Roberts says

November 2, 2006
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The contents of the report of the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training report on the Jan 19, 2006 double fatality at Massey Energy Company's Aracoma Alma #1 mine shows that the mine was "set up to be a death trap in the event of an accident, and that's what it became," United Mine Workers of America Cecil E. Roberts said today.

"Everywhere you turn in this report, there is another safety procedure that was supposed to be followed that wasn't or safety equipment that was supposed to be in place that either wasn't there or didn't work," Roberts said. "There was no water available to fight the fire because it was shut off. The hose couplings didn't fit. Carbon monoxide monitors were not installed. Ventilation plans were not being followed and ventilation controls were not being maintained.

"These are Massey management's responsibilities," Roberts said. "These are things they are supposed to be staying on top of. The report clearly shows that this is a tragedy that didn't have to happen, shouldn't have happened, and only happened because proper and required safety and maintenance procedures were not followed at that mine."

The report indicated, for example, that management had been told nearly a month before the fire occurred that the couplings on the hoses needed to fight a fire in the mine were not compatible with the water system outlets. The report also indicated that management personnel knew that the belt that eventually caught on fire was running out of alignment for several hours before the fire started.

"This is yet another example of what happens when upper management puts pressure on a mine to ˜run coal" before doing anything else," Roberts said, referring to a memo Massey CEO Don Blankenship sent to Massey mines last fall, before the Aracoma disaster. "Proper maintenance isn't done, needed and required safety equipment is not put in place, and effective safety procedures in the event of an emergency are not followed. When you put production ahead of safety, tragedies like this are all too often the result."

Roberts also questioned the effectiveness of the enforcement of federal and state mine safety laws at the mine. "You have to wonder why many of these things were not identified," he said. "Ventilation stoppings were out, carbon monoxide monitors were not installed, the water wasn't turned on to the fire suppression system, and more. Why weren't these clear violations of the law identified?"

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