MSHA shares blame for UBB explosion: report

March 28, 2012

Washington – Proper enforcement from the Mine Safety and Health Administration might have prevented the fatal April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, concludes a new report.

The report (.pdf file), released March 23, was written by an independent panel of experts assembled by NIOSH at the request of Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. On March 6, MSHA released an internal review (.pdf file) that acknowledged enforcement shortcomings due to budget cuts, inexperienced inspectors and management turnover, but found MSHA was not to blame for the explosion.

The panel report agreed that Massey Energy Co. – UBB’s owner at the time – was responsible for the explosion, but stated, “…if MSHA had engaged in timely enforcement of the Mine Act and applicable standards and regulations, it would have lessened the chances of – and possibly could have prevented – the UBB explosion.”

Although MSHA could not have prevented the ignition, enforcement could have cut off the fuel sources – accumulations of methane and coal dust, according to the report.

The panel criticized MSHA’s internal review for failing to address whether a more effective enforcement effort would have prevented the explosion, and recommended MSHA create an independent monitor to oversee implementation of corrective action.