Solis: Computer glitch missed Upper Big Branch's pattern of violations

A computer program error failed to properly screen the Upper Big Branch Mine for "pattern of violations" status, according to Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis.

The error did not have an impact on last week's explosion at the Whitesville, WV, mine in which 29 workers were killed, Solis said in a statement released Tuesday. A Mine Safety and Health Administration review discovered and corrected the error Monday night, she said.

According to Solis, the computer program, in use since 2007, failed to count final orders of unwarrantable citations in an "unpaid and uncontested; first demand letter sent" category. Upper Big Branch had eight such citations.

Had the program not contained the error, Upper Big Branch could have been placed on potential pattern of violations status in October 2009. However, between that date and December 2009, the mine reduced its level of "significant and substantial" violations by nearly 65 percent, meaning it would not have had pattern of violations status when the blast occurred April 5, according to Solis.

The only impact the error had was on information provided to the public and media, Solis said. A review of data for all underground coal mines found no other mines meet the criteria for pattern of violations status due to the error.

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