UMWA in Action
Wooten comments about Sago operation â€œan outrage,â€ UMWAâ€˜s Roberts says
December 22, 2006
United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts said today that comments by the Ron Wooten, the head of the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training (WVMHST) that the Sago mine was a 'well-operated coal mine' before the explosion that led to the deaths of twelve miners in January are â€œan outrage, and insults the memories of those brave men.â€
â€œTwelve people are dead,â€ Roberts said. â€œThe public testimony of both state and federal inspectors in the investigation was very clear: The Sago mine had a pattern of significant safety problems, and those problems existed at the time of the explosion. For the state of West Virginiaâ€™s highest mine safety official to say otherwise in the face of these facts is inexcusable.â€
â€œThe federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) had even scheduled a high-level meeting in Arlington, Va. (where MSHAâ€™s headquarters are located) to put mine management on notice that they needed to clean up their act,â€ Roberts said. â€œThatâ€™s an extremely rare occurrence under the present administration. For a coal company to get that kind of summons in the enforcement environment that existed before the Sago explosion speaks volumes about what the agency thought about the safety record at Sago.â€
Roberts noted that the Sago mine had an injury rate that was more than twice the national average in the two years preceding the explosion and had been cited by MSHA for over 260 violations, several of them classified as Ã¢â‚¬Ëœsignificant and substantial.â€™
â€œThatâ€™s not the record of a well-operated mine,â€ Roberts said. â€œMSHA knew it, which is why it called the meeting with upper-level mine management. If the state of West Virginiaâ€™s records that Mr. Wooten is basing his comments on donâ€™t reflect that, then it raises the question: Why not?â€
In his published comments to the Charleston Gazette, Wooten also indicated that it â€œwouldnâ€™t be practical to evacuate mines during lightening storms,â€ comparing such a situation with a roof fall behind the seals at Sago.
â€œFirst of all, itâ€™s curious that Mr. Wooten would raise a roof fall as the cause of this explosion,â€ Roberts said. â€œDoes that mean heâ€™s re-thinking his theory that lightning caused this? I would submit that it might be wise for him to do so.
â€œSecondly, the two situations have nothing in common with each other in terms of accident prevention,â€ Roberts said, â€œWe know how to control for roof falls by installing mesh, additional roof supports and extra roof bolting and straps. If lightning did indeed cause this explosion, there remains no answer for how it happened and what needs to be done to control it. Mr. Wootenâ€™s own statements make that clear.
â€œThatâ€™s why the UMWA is calling for the evacuation of a mine in the event of an approaching lightning storm,â€ Roberts said. â€œIf we know lightning can kill miners underground, but we donâ€™t know how, then why in Godâ€™s name would we make them stay underground in a situation where their lives are at risk and we canâ€™t control for it? Thatâ€™s a recipe for disaster.â€
United Mine Workers