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Accident Record In Mines Calls Safety Into Question

Laura Walsh |
November 24, 2010 | 12:53 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

The safety of coal mining practices have been put into question across the globe this year, as many researches believe that the recent score of fatal accidents are more preventable than internal investigators let on.

Massey Energy which owns the collapsed mine responsible for the death of 29 mine workers in West Virginia last April, had until Friday to avoid federal seizure of its Upper Big Branch for exactly this reason.  The company claims that the Mine Safety and Health Administration impeded the company’s investigation of probable causes of the accident.  The company claims that MSHA failed to provide a water connection, which would be key in determining if the blast was caused by explosive coal dust and sparks.  At the same time, they have avoided providing sufficient evidence for the cause, and have instead focused attention on their possible merger with another big company.

The collapse of the West Virgina mine represents only a fraction of mining related incidents this year.  In New Zealand last week, another group of 29 were declared dead after going missing under the surface of the Pike River mine.  The group, ranging in age from 17 to 62, were reportedly equipped with oxygen tanks, but no food, little water, and a fleeting source of light from their headgear.  

In a more optimistic setting, all 29 workers who had been trapped underground in China after their coal mine flooded have been rescued.  Considering the deadly record of china’s accident-prone mining industry, the magnitude of the flood, all of the men are extremely lucky to be alive. 

The same can be said of the 33 men trapped in a mine in Chile last month, who were a half-mile underground for 69 days.  The survival of the miners may seem like a miracle, but the miners say it can be attributed to the daily trials of the job.  They are used to dangerous, dirty, stuffy conditions, and are often prepared with extra water and oxygen for long trips underground. 

Of course, the conditions which they survived certainly involved luck. However, many people are arguing that this luck is only relative to the outdated and neglected safety practices of mines. 

Recent events have clearly highlighted a contradictory situation.  Unions have shown pressing concern for the recent number of serious accidents and injuries in the industry, which they argue has in part to do with the prevalence and competence of safety inspectors, which Pike River had said at the time were “totally inappropriate and not required.”  Coal is a natural resource in extremely high demand, contributing to 70 percent of the energy source of large countries like China.

Fears for the safety of such an explicitly dangerous professions are escalating as these dangerous “accidents” persist.

Reach reporter Laura Walsh here.



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