State Publishes Final Report on Fatal West Virginia Mine Disaster

" ... The report comes the day after federal prosecutors charged the mine's former superintendent, Gary May, with conspiracy to defraud and said they could soon be targetting other Massey employees, some possibly higher up the management ladder. ... "

HazardEx, 24 February 2012

On February 23 West Virginia officials issued 253 violations in their investigation of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster and said two foremen could have exacerbated the unsafe conditions underground before the explosion, which killed 29 men in April 2010.

The violations are in a report released by the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training, the fourth and final report on the country's worst coal mining disaster in four decades at Massey Energy's mine near Montcoal.

The report comes the day after federal prosecutors charged the mine's former superintendent, Gary May, with conspiracy to defraud and said they could soon be targetting other Massey employees, some possibly higher up the management ladder.

The state's conclusions about the cause of the explosion are similar to those of previous reports, with the primary cause said to be a longwall cutting machine which created the ignition source for a methane cloud.

Non-functional water sprayers then failed to stop the fireball from turning into a much more powerful series of explosions fuelled by coal dust.

"The methane explosion quickly transitioned into a coal dust explosion, which severely damaged ventilation controls, conveyor belts, water lines, electrical systems and numerous items in its path until the fuel was consumed and the explosion extinguished itself ,“ the report states.

The report said foremen Ricky J. Foster and Terry W. Moore repeatedly failed to clean conveyor belts and apply pulverised limestone to certain areas in the mine from December 2009 until the explosion on April 5, 2010.  The violations include 22 "special assessments," which could result in fines of up to $10,000 apiece, and one automatic $100,000 penalty for failing to report the explosion within 15 minutes.

State investigators said one of the most disturbing factors had been the foremen’s failure to neutralise the highly explosive coal dust with pulverised limestone at one key site in the mine at any time between September 2009 and April 2010.

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