February 22, 2012 Liz Borkowski, MPH 1Comment

Earlier today, US Attorney Booth Goodwin charged Upper Big Branch mine superintendent Gary May with “conspiring to impede the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s enforcement efforts” at that mine. Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia was the site of numerous health and safety violations leading up to the April 5, 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners. The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. has the details on the charges against May:

May, 43, of Bloomingrose, is accused of taking part in a scheme to provide advance warning of government inspections and then conceal violations before federal agents could make it into working sections of the sprawling Raleigh County mine.

Also, May is alleged to have ordered an unnamed person to falsify mine examination records by omitting a hazardous condition required to be reported and then repaired.

Prosecutors further allege that May, after learning that federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors were about to sample the level of coal dust in the mine, “surreptitiously redirected” additional fresh air to the area to conceal actual working conditions in the mine.

Goodwin and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby also allege that May “caused and ordered” the disabling of a methane monitor on a continuous mining machine at Upper Big Branch less than two months before the deadly blast.

“Mine safety and health laws were routinely violated at UBB, in part because of a belief that following those laws would decrease coal production,” prosecutors said in their court filing.

Ward notes that the charges were brought in the form of an “information” rather than a grand jury indictment, which may indicate that May is expected to reach a plea deal involving cooperation with prosecutors. For more on May’s role at Upper Big Branch and the importance of the criminal charges against him, check out Ward’s Coal Tattoo blog.

Let’s hope May’s apparent cooperation with prosecutors will help officials learn more about the practices at Upper Big Branch that led to the deaths of 29 workers. The independent team headed by J. Davitt McAteer that investigated the disaster at the request of then-West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin learned a great deal from interviewing people involved with the mine, but several mine officials invoked their Fifth Amendment rights and declined to be interviewed by investigators after being subpoenaed by the state. Celeste served on the investigation team, and pointed me toward the investigation report appendix listing the names of those who refused to be interviewed. Gary May’s name is on that list.

In other news:

New York Times: Among the more than 80 people reported killed in an attack by Syrian security forces on the city of Homs are two journalists: Marie Colvin, an American war correspondent working for the Sunday Times of London, and Rémi Ochlik, a French photographer. Syrian videoblogger Rami el-Sayed was killed the previous day, one of several citizen journalists killed in what activists say is a campaign to halt news about the government opposition.

Medline Plus: Researchers report that in the years following implementation of the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act, sharps-related skin puncture wounds in healthcare workers dropped 38%.

Malta Today: The heirs of hundreds of former Malta Drydocks workers who were exposed to asbestos in US warships have filed lawsuits in the US.

Environmental Health News: Research on data from the World War II Veteran Twins Registry finds that exposure to TCE and other common chemical solvents may increase the risk of Parkinson’s Disease.

Science Careers: Captain Chesley Sullenberger and the crew of US Airways flight 1549 kept themselves and 155 passengers alive because they were trained and prepared for disaster. Such extensive training and preparation didn’t happen at the UCLA laboratory where 23-year-old lab worker Sheri Sangji received fatal burns. “Can academic science become more like commercial aviation when it comes to safety?” asks Beryl Lieff Benderly.

One thought on “Occupational Health News Roundup

  1. Sullenberger and company were neither ‘trained’ for this disaster nor were they even remotely ‘prepared’. They had not one minute of training in either total engine loss or in ditching. This entirely-avoidable incident occurred because, instead of watching where they were going, two pilots were gawking ‘the beautiful view of the river’. Moreover, a review of the incident proved that they could have easily made it back to LGA. Stupid was, stupid did.

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