It is entirely appropriate that a former superintendent at West Virginia’s Big Branch Mine was sentenced to 21 months in prison for attempting to cover up safety violations, and whose despicable actions included disabling a methane gas monitor and falsifying records. This individual is one of many that have or will face criminal charges related to the April 5, 2010 explosion which tragically killed 29 workers.
Mine workers risk their lives every day in order to meet the nation’s demand for an abundant and cheap source of energy. It is outrageous that even in this, the modern era, they are considered by many of their employers to be collateral damage and that deaths and injuries occur with some regularity, casualties which would be significantly reduced if mandated safety measures were closely followed.
In the Big Branch case, not only did those that had positions of authority in the operation betray the laborers, but the Mine Safety Administration failed to do its job of properly sanctioning safety violators, including their skirting the responsibility to shut down mines that are found to be a danger.
I have an enormous respect for the individuals that go into confined, dirty underground spaces in order to serve the public, some of which contain areas that are so constricted that the workers cannot stand up straight. This is work that I would not perform for all the money in the world.
The least coal miners can expect is that profits will not come before safety and that when someone is found to have acted in a manner which placed miners’ lives at risk in violation of regulations and law, that the perpetrator will pay with jail time and disgrace. A felon’s prison sentence does not bring back the loved ones that lost their lives at the Big Branch Mine, but it sends a powerful and important message that coal miners are human beings and that human life, at least in this instance, is valued.