July 21, 2009 The Pump Handle 0Comment

Steven Cain, 32, reported to work at Massey Energy’s Justice No. 1 coal mine at about 3:30 pm on Wednesday, October 8, 2008.   He never returned to his family.  At about 11:00 pm that night, he died inside the mine when he was crushed between a loaded supply car and a coal rib (vertical coal wall).  The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward reports at Coal Tattoo on the results of MSHA’s investigation, including how

“…Massey and the contractor that employed Cain, Mountaineer Labor Solution, received just a tiny slap on the wrist from MSHA.  Federal regulators did not cite either company. Instead, they issued two safeguard orders, minor actions that require safety improvements but come with no monetary penalties.”

No citations, no penalties, but language that incorrectly infers that it was the miner’s own fault that he was crushed to death:  the miner, MSHA writes

“…had positioned himself in a hazardous area.”  

Please, we must get away from this blame the worker mentality, especially, ESPECIALLY, knowing how little experience this  man had working underground. 

Curiously, in one place in its investigation report,  MSHA says that Mr. Cain was considered an “experienced miner.”   I don’t know whether this is a typographical error, or a techinicality related to Part 48.5(d) but for me, Mr. Cain should have been considered an apprentice miner in training.  This was his first job in an underground coal mine and he’d only been on-the-job for four months.  

Here’s a summary, according to MSHA’s report, of Mr. Cain’s mining “experience”:

“Steven Cain started his mining career on May 17, 2008, attending a two-week course at Coal River Training, where he received his 80 hour certificate.”

This 80-hours of training is the required “new miner training” under MSHA’s Part 48 training regulations.

“Cain started to work for Mountaineer Labor Solution on June 1, 2008, as a newly employed inexperienced miner.  Mountaineer Labor Solution provided experienced miner training to Cain on this date.”

This says  that Mr. Cain received another 8 hours of training (during a single day), allowing him to be considered a “newly employed experienced miner” (see MSHA Part 48.5(b)(14)(d)).  [emphasis added]

MSHA goes on to say, that now, after these two-weeks plus one extra day of training:

“On June 5, 2008, Cain went to work at the Justice No. 1 mine as an experienced miner…” [emphasis added]

How can Mr. Cain be an experienced miner?  MSHA’s own definition of an experienced miner is one

“…who has completed MSHA-approved new miner training for underground miners or training acceptable to MSHA from a State agency and who has had at least 12 months of underground mining experience”;  (See Part 48.2(b)(1))

So it’s a mystery to me why MSHA says:

“On June 5, 2008, Cain went to work at the Justice No. 1 mine as an experienced miner…” [emphasis added]

Unlike most States, West Virginia is one that conducts its own investigations of mine-related fatalities, and it can be interesting to compare the reports prepared by MSHA and the State.  In this case, the conclusions in the two reports are striking.   MSHA ends its report with:

“The accident occurred because a miner with little mining experience and minimal training was assigned work duties in an area of close clearance with inadequate communication.   In addition, supplies loaded on the supply cars hindered the motor operator’s visibility.”

The visibility problems sounds like an afterthought in MSHA’s report, while in WVMHST’s report , the investigators note: 

“…#10 diesel motor was not being operated safely in that the motor operator could not see his apprentice miner because the supply cars were loaded to a height that obstructed visibility.”


“In a reenactment of the fatal incident, investigators positioned themselves in the operator’s seat of the diesel powered motor.  …Their view was totally obstructed by the loaded supply cars immediately inby the diesel powered motor.”

They couldn’t see him, they couldn’t hear him.  Mr. Cain didn’t have a chance.  

I wish that MSHA would have found a way to slap more than Massey Energy’s wrist.  At a minimum, for example, demanding that the additional training for miners working near locomotives and rail cars, and the sounding of horns be implemented at all of their operations, not just at the Justice No. 1 mine where Mr. Cain lost his life.

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