I don’t know if all the facts listed on the “North Dakota Fun Facts and Trivia” website are true, but it kinda makes sense that when your state’s official beverage is milk, you are probably living in “the safest” state in the nation.” So that’s why last week’s new “Death on the Job” report from AFL-CIO seemed so shocking to us and a lot of other people. The AFL found that when it comes to workers, North Dakota is now the deadliest state in the nation, and it seems we have the mining, oil and gas industries and all that new hydro-fracking to thank! (Perhaps the state beverage should be changed to “contaminated ground water.”) Writes the AFL,
[T]oo many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death as workplace tragedies continue to remind us. These tragedies are all preventable.
The 2013 explosion at a West, Texas fertilizer plant killed 15 people, most of them volunteer emergency responders, and was caused by an unregulated chemical industry. The 2010 explosion at Massey Energy Upper Big Branch in West Virginia killed 29 miners. The 2010 BP Transocean Gulf coast rig explosion killed 11 workers and caused a major environmental disaster.…
North Dakota had the highest fatality rate in the nation (17.7 per 100,000 workers) followed by Wyoming (12.2), Alaska (8.9), Montana (7.3) and West Virginia (6.9).
Ah, #5 West Virginia and its mining accidents. This was a big ThePopTort topic during the hey day of the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch mine explosion (like here, here). We thought fatal mining accidents, particularly in West Virginia and particularly caused by companies with extensive safety violations, was part of the distant past. Then this happened last night:
Two miners were killed last night at a Patriot Coal operation in Boone County where federal officials said last year they would increase enforcement because of a pattern of serious violations and unreported worker injuries.
Federal and state officials this morning confirmed the deaths occurred at Patriot’s Brody Mine No. 1 in the Wharton area.
Killed were Eric D. Legg, 48, of Twilight, and Gary P. Hensley, 46, of Chapmanville, said Amy Goodwin, a spokeswoman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.…
A statement from [the Mine Safety and Health Administration] MSHA referred to the incident as a “ground failure,” while the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training’s initial report called it a “coal outburst.” Both descriptions suggest the incident was not simply a roof fall, but involved pressures from above ejecting rock and coal material from the mine walls onto the workers.
Writes the New York Times,
The Brody mine has a history of federal citations for safety violations, according to inspection reports on the safety and health administration website dating to January 2011. Federal officials notified Patriot in October that the mine exhibited “repeated violations of mandatory health or safety standards.”
Forty-six citations, including 16 in 2013 and 2014, were for unwarrantable failure to comply with safety rules, which the agency defines as “aggravated conduct constituting more that ordinary negligence.”
Such violations generally refer to safety hazards in which “it was plain or obvious — ones that the operator knew or should have known about and did not correct,” said Tony Oppegard, a lawyer in Lexington, Ky., who is a former adviser to the head of the federal mine safety administration and a mine-safety prosecutor for Kentucky’s Office of Mine Safety and Licensing.
And the Charleston Gazette writes,
In October 2013, federal officials cited the operation for a “pattern of violations,” as part of a stepped-up enforcement program that the Obama administration began following the deaths of 29 miners at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in April 2010.
MSHA said that its inspectors had cited more than 250 “significant and substantial” violations during the 12-month period that ended Aug. 31. An MSHA audit of the mine’s records found that injuries resulted in nearly 1,800 lost-work days at the mine, 367 of which were from eight injuries that the company did not report to MSHA. A separate audit in 2012 found 29 injuries that were not reported.
In a prepared statement at the time of MSHA’s action, St. Louis-based Patriot Coal said that it had acquired Brody effective Dec. 31, 2012, and that many of the violations cited by MSHA occurred prior to that time. Patriot said that it had made major safety improvements at the operation.
(Uh, two people were just killed. Hate to know what an "unsafe" mine would look like to this company.)
The AFL is calling for more “funding and staffing at OSHA and MSHA … to provide for enhanced oversight of worksites and timely and effective enforcement [and] improvements in the Mine Safety and Health Act … to give MSHA more authority to enhance enforcement against repeat violators and to shut down dangerous mines.”
One might ask: What exactly are they waiting for?