CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Government investigators have cited Massey Energy for failing to report more than 20 accidents at its Upper Big Branch coal mine in the two years before an April explosion killed 29 miners there, according to documents released by the Mine Safety and Health Administration on Tuesday.
Just four of the alleged violations directly involve the explosion. The rest occurred between January 2008 and early this year. Among other things, they involve unreported roof collapses, assorted injuries and two instances of miners exercising their right to move out of dusty areas of the mine because they've contracted black lung disease.
All were supposed to be reported. MSHA said the citations were issued because the agency did not learn of the violations until it performed an audit stemming from its investigation of the explosion. The blast also is the subject of a federal criminal investigation.
Massey is reviewing the citations and records at its other operations to determine why violations may not have been reported, spokesman Jeff Gillenwater said. Massey operates dozens of coal mines in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia.
"We agree with some citations and disagree with others," Gillenwater said.
Four miners were unable to work after the explosion. The citations offer few details about why. The documents say only that the "incident" on April 5 resulted in lost time and was not reported as required.
At least one Upper Big Branch miner has said during congressional testimony that he's been emotionally unable to work since the explosion.
Other citations allege Massey failed to report a variety of accidents resulting in injuries, including one that "resulted in temporary total disability," and others that required miners to miss work, get stitches and even nurse a fracture.
The citations raise new questions about Massey's safety record. The company routinely points out that its rate of serious accidents that cause miners to miss work is among the best in the industry.
Gillenwater said it is company policy to report all accidents to MSHA if required.
A United Mine Workers official said the report confirms what the union has long heard.
"It comes as no surprise that Massey has been found not to have reported injuries and accidents," UMW spokesman Phil Smith said. The union represents a small number of Massey employees, but has been a frequent critic of the company through a series of labor disputes.
"We've been hearing stories about this a long time," Smith said. "This is not the stuff of rumors. This is the stuff of fact."
Separately, MSHA said Tuesday it is fining a Massey Energy subsidiary more than $542,000 for violations that contributed to a fatal accident at a Virginia mine in 2009.
Among other things, Big Laurel Mining is accused of failing to follow the roof control plan at its No. 2 underground mine when a massive chunk of rock fell on 58-year-old miner William Parrott. The rock was more than 26 feet long and up to 5 feet thick.
The accident occurred Aug. 20, 2009, when the mine was owned by Cumberland Resources, which Massey acquired in April.
MSHA says other violations included inadequate safety examinations of the area where the accident occurred.