‘Deviation became the norm’ at UBB: report

Beckley, WV – The explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine-South that killed 29 miners on April 5, 2010, was a “man-made” disaster that could have been prevented if Massey Energy, the mine's owner, had followed basic safety procedures, a new report concludes.

Commissioned by then-Gov. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia and released May 19, the 122-page report (.pdf file) from the Governor’s Independent Investigative Panel said evidence indicates the explosion occurred when a spark from the shearer ignited an accumulation of methane gas, producing a fireball fueled by coal mine dust.

As for the larger question of why, the report zeroed in on three problems: inadequate ventilation, failure to adhere to rock dusting standards (which led to buildups of coal dust) and failure to maintain safety features on machinery.

“Such total and catastrophic systemic failures can only be explained in the context of a culture in which wrongdoing became acceptable, where deviation became the norm,” the report said.

Investigators offered 52 recommendations, including better mine technology and holding mine boards of directors accountable for safety compliance.

Massey Energy continues to deny that coal dust played an important role in the explosion, instead linking the incident to an unforeseen infusion of methane or natural gas.

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