Monday, April 27, 2015

Worker’s Memorial Week: Investigator says greed drove UBB tragedy

As Worker’s Memorial Week begins, a former investigator of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster said workers and businesses can learn from the tragedy and the upcoming trial of Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy.
Celeste Monforton, a lecturer at George Washington University, said the UBB disaster that killed 29 miners should have been avoided.
“Like most work-related fatalities, the deaths of these miners could have been prevented,” Monforton said. “Coal miners have known for decades how to avert coal dust explosions.”
In a conference call with reporters, she said that proper ventilation, water sprays and limestone dust are essential to avoiding mine explosions. UBB allegedly ignored safety warnings in order to maximize profits.
“What’s worse about this company is that they had been warned about these great safety dangers in the year preceding the disaster,” Monforton said. “Coal mine inspectors had issued dozens and dozens of violations, and yet the company continued to gamble with workers lives.”
She said the charges against Blankenship involve conspiracy and making false statements to the government. Blankenship allegedly knew the mine was unsafe but ignored them. Monforton felt that his trial, which is scheduled to begin in July, would serve as a warning to employers.
“It really should be a wake-up call to companies and employers, and it may set an important precedent, that if you cut corners and put pressure on your managers and your workers to operate unsafely, and someone gets hurt, you can be held accountable.”
Monforton also said the trial would force other companies to ask themselves if similar unsafe conditions exist in their work environments.

Three other executives have pleaded guilty or been convicted in connection with the investigation that began after the UBB tragedy.