During its examination of records and from testimony about examinations at UBB, MSHA claimed the company kept two sets of records. In addition to poor record keeping, hazards recorded in production and maintenance reports were not listed in required examination books. Required gas and air readings were not adequately recorded.

The agency documented a work place fraught with intimidation. According to Strickland, UBB upper management threatened to fire first line management for not meeting production goals. “Safety hazards such as insufficient air were not acceptable excuses for not running coal,” Strickland said. “A section foreman was fired for delaying production for about an hour to fix ventilation problems.” Examiners were pressured not to list hazards in the books. Miners who were worried about conditions at the mine would not complain due to fear of retribution.

The UBB mine lacked mine planning and engineering was performed on an ad hoc basis. The agency documented excessive haste to speed up development for the longwall mining units. Pillars in the headgate and tailgate of the longwall, according to Strickland, were too small, creating extensive floor heave and numerous roof falls (and rib rolls), which restricted air flow in critical air courses.

So far, MSHA said the evidence indicates the shearer ignited methane liberated from floor cracks while cutting sandstone. A localized explosion occurred and traveled through the outby crosscut of the tailgate, putting coal dust into suspension before propagating into a major coal dust explosion. Massey Energy failed to apply adequate rock dust to control coal (float) dust.

The company also failed to maintain water pressure and water sprays at the shearer. A full report will appear in the July edition of Coal Age.