The upper Big Branch mine explosion, killing 29 miners and injuring two others, was the worst mining disaster in the U.S. in 40 years. The House Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing today on lessons learned from the April 5, 2010 disaster that took place in Montcoat, W.Va.
A Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) report, released in December 2011, found the mine owner, Massey Energy Company, responsible for not following prescribed safety standards.
However, an internal review conducted by MSHA and an independent National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) review, ordered by Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, also put responsibility on MSHA for not remedying safety violations found at the Upper Big Branch mine.
The NIOSH report, released on March 22, blamed the severity of the disaster on the negligence of MSHA inspectors. During four inspections leading up to the gas explosion, inspectors failed to follow up on uncovered safety violations and missed the dangerous build up of coal dust in the mine.
Joseph A. Main, Assistant Secretary of Labor for MSHA, was the sole witness on the first panel. The second panel included: Jeffery Kohler, Director, MSHA -- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; Cecil Edward Roberts Jr., President, United Mine Workers of America; and Howard Shapiro, Counsel to the Inspector General, Department of Labor.