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MSHA News Release: [03/06/2012]
Contact:   Amy Louviere
Phone:   (202) 693-9423
Release Number 12-418-NAT

MSHA internal review team releases report on agency's actions prior to UBB blast

ARLINGTON, Va. —The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration today released the results of its internal review of the agency's actions prior to the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va. The internal review team, comprised of MSHA employees outside the district where the accident occurred, was charged with evaluating agency actions relative to the explosion and making recommendations to improve the agency's performance in order to better protect the nation's miners.

The team not only focused on MSHA enforcement and plan approval activities during the 18 months preceding the explosion, it looked much deeper. Where appropriate, it also evaluated the effectiveness of MSHA standards, regulations, policies and procedures in addressing the hazards that caused or contributed to the disaster.

"I directed my staff to conduct the most comprehensive internal review that has ever been done at MSHA, and I feel confident they have achieved that objective," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Their final report is the culmination of nearly two years of a singularly focused effort, including interviews with nearly 90 current and former MSHA employees, and the examination of more than 12,500 pages of documents."

According to the accident investigation team's findings, which were released last December, Massey Energy, then-owner of UBB, violated widely recognized safety standards and failed to prevent or correct numerous hazards that ultimately caused the catastrophic explosion by using advance notice of inspections and intimidation of miners to hide violations from federal inspectors. Three independent reports corroborated MSHA's conclusions.

"While there was no evidence linking the actions of MSHA employees to this tragedy, we found instances where enforcement efforts at UBB were compromised because MSHA and District 4 did not follow established agency policies and procedures," said internal review team leader George Fesak.

The internal review team identified a number of shortcomings in the inspection and plan approval processes:

A number of factors led to these shortcomings, according to the internal review team:

"MSHA is responsible for its actions and will address each of the problems the team has specifically identified," said Main. "We take the deficiencies and recommendations outlined in this internal review extremely seriously. In fact, shortly after the tragedy at UBB, we began aggressively implementing a number of corrective actions, some of which directly address the internal review team's findings."

Corrective actions put in place after April 2010 include:

Since the tragedy at Upper Big Branch, one former UBB security director was convicted of lying to federal investigators and ordering the destruction of evidence. Another former employee was sentenced to jail time after he was convicted of faking a mine foreman's license and lying to federal investigators. And on Feb. 22, 2012, a UBB mine superintendent was charged in a criminal information for conspiracy to defraud the United States by engaging in a conspiracy to give advance notification of mine inspections, falsify examination record books and alter the mine's ventilation system before federal inspectors were able to inspect underground.

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