MSHA Releases Internal Review of Agency’s Actions Prior to Upper Big Branch

by Erica Peterson on March 6, 2012

The Mine Safety and Health Administration has identified several ways the agency’s actions could have contributed to the deadly 2010 explosion at a West Virginia coal mine.

MSHA released its internal review today. It’s the agency’s policy to conduct a review whenever more than three coal miners die in a single accident. Twenty-nine miners were killed nearly two years ago at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine.

In the review, the agency maintained that the blame for the accident lies with Massey and its subsidiary, Performance Coal Company. But in the 18 months leading up to the explosion, there were significant failings by MSHA inspectors.

Inspectors didn’t fully inspect the mine, as required by law. They didn’t report several serious violations to headquarters, which could have resulted in increased scrutiny or even the mine’s shutdown. And even though the agency pointed to insufficient record- keeping on the part of the coal company as a cause of the unsafe conditions, the review found that inspectors didn’t always review the records.

The report also lays out corrective actions the agency has taken since the Upper Big Branch disaster to address the problems.

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