July 1, 2011 Liz Borkowski, MPH 0Comment

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has released additional results from its ongoing investigation into the disaster at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine, which killed 29 miners last year in West Virginia. Like the independent investigation team, MSHA investigators cite poorly controlled coal dust, inadequate ventilation, and a corporate culture that emphasized coal production even when mine conditions were unsafe. NPR’s Howard Berkes reports that MSHA also documented “a pattern of intimidation” at Upper Big Branch:

According to Kevin Stricklin, the coal mine safety chief at the agency:

— upper management threatened to fire front-line supervisors for not meeting production goals

— safety hazards, such as insufficient air, were not acceptable excuses for not “running” or digging coal

— a section foreman was fired for delaying production for about an hour to fix ventilation problems

— one of the Upper Big Branch victims was told, “If you can’t go up there to run coal just bring your [lunch] bucket outside and go home.”

Berkes also reports that official mine safety reports did not include descriptions of safety problems and corrections that were recorded in internal company production documents. At his Coal Tattoo blog, the Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. gives more details about the kinds of information that was kept out of official reports.

In other news:

Mother Jones
: Did workers who developed neurological diseases after exposure to pig brains at the Quality Pork Processors facility in Minnesota get appropriate treatment from their employer?

Reuters: During an earlier safety crisis at a Fukushima nuclear reactor, operator Tokyo Electric brought in foreign workers for dangerous jobs that weren’t performed according to Japan’s safety standards, says a manager of the 1997 project.

Associated Press: the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry will undertake an extensive study of former Camp Lejeune residents – including Marines and their family members – to investigate health effects of exposure to contaminated water at the base.

The Independent (UK): Dozens of workers who were exposed to the fumigant DBCP at banana plantations supplying Dole and Chiquita are suing, claiming that the companies continued to use the product even after it had been linked to reproductive problems, cornea damage, and skin disorders.

EHS Today: Between April 2010 and March 2011, 50 construction workers were killed in the UK – a marked increase from 41 construction-worker deaths the previous year.

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