March 16, 2018 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 1Comment

The CEO of a coal mining company thinks emergency breathing devices for miners is a waste of money.  “We never have used one rescuer at our mines never heard of anyone using them elsewhere.”  Mark Jensen, CEO of Quest Energy, sounds ignorant and uniformed. He says he’s never heard of anyone using their self-contained self-rescuer (SCSR)?

I wonder what Jensen was doing on April 5, 2010. Many of us were learning about the horrific disaster at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine that killed 29 men. I would think that every coal mine operator would have studied that event. Had Mr. Jensen done so, he would recall that UBB miner Tim Blake donned his SCSR and tried bravely to assist his fellow miners. Blake described in painful detail to investigators what happened after the massive coal dust explosion. [Read his testimony here beginning on page 27.]

The CEO’s idiotic remark was just one of several ideas he shared recently with the Labor Department on how–in his words—to “cut abusive regulations.” He was invited to do so by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in response to an executive order by President Trump on “regulatory reform.”

Jensen said the rescuers “are stored everywhere and never used.” Well, I could say the same thing about fire extinguishers, lifeguards, and AED devices. Or what about the life jackets on airplanes or those emergency slides?  We may not yet have used them, but we certainly want them close-by in case of an emergency. Mining companies also invest in mine rescue teams made up of well-trained emergency responders equipped with sophisticated equipment. Like SCSR’s, they are rarely needed, but that doesn’t mean miners should go without them.

Steven O’Dell, 27 (1985-2012)

I’m not sure Mark Jensen has much credibility offering ideas about mine safety. I checked the violation history for three coal mines operated by Quest Energy: Access Energy in Letcher County, KY, and Carnegie and Mine #15 in Pike County,KY.

In just the last six months, MSHA inspectors issued more than 380 citations for mine safety violations. The infractions ran the full gamut of hazards, from roof control and electrical safety, to accumulation of combustible coal dust and problems with methane monitors. More than 75 of the violations were classified as “significant and substantial” which means a reasonable likelihood that a serious injury could occur because of the unsafe condition.

Jensen’s company has also racked up unpaid monetary penalties. At just these three mines, I count 53 citations with delinquent penalties totaling about $7,000. Another $9,900 is outstanding while Quest Energy makes payments on an installment plan.

But the CEO doesn’t stop his complaint with SCSRs. He also thinks rescue chambers are a waste of money and claims that proximity detectors on mobile equipment: “will get men KILLED.”

His reasoning?

“Miners will stop using their natural instinct to stay safe and they will get killed.”

Natural instinct?  Is this guy for real?

Jensen needs to read about the incident that took the life of electrician Steven A. O’Dell, 27. He was working at the Pocahontas Mine in Greenbrier County, WV when he was fatally injury. A co-worker was slowly maneuvering a scoop in reverse through ventilation curtains. The co-worker’s visibility was impaired, in part because of the geological conditions that created an uneven mine floor. O’Dell was situated near a continuous mining machine. He was fatally injured when the mining machine was struck by the scoop.

Steven O’Dell’s death could have been prevented had a proximity detection device been installed on the scoop. His wife, Caitlin, worked diligently following her husband’s death to see that rules were put in place to require the devices.

Jensen’s suggestion that “natural instincts” are effective at addressing hazards is idiotic. The same can be said for his comments about SCSRs and calling safety protections for miners “abusive regulations.”

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