Jan 16, 2006
The Sago Mine in West Virginia, where 12 miners died after a mine explosion, never should have been in operation.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administrations (MSHA) had cited the Sago Mine for 208 safety violations in 2005. The state of West Virginia cited the company another 144 times last year. Yet neither the federal government nor the state of West Virginia forced the company to correct the problems. In only 18 instances did the MSHA close down even part of the mine.
The highest fine the government agencies levied against the company for any single violation was $440, hardly more than the cost of a speeding ticket. Many of Sago’s violations involved the lack of an adequate ventilation plan and not conducting safety inspections before each shift – exactly the kind of failures that probably led to this explosion!
The federal and state agencies now promise to investigate the causes of the accident. Too little, too late!
Most of the miners might have survived, if the mine had adequate rescue plans and equipment in place. All but one miner lived for hours after the explosion.
The miners almost reached safety in a rail car, but turned back when their path was blocked. Mines are supposed to have self-rescuers – breathing apparatuses like those carried by the Sago miners – stored throughout the mines. With better communication systems, rescuers could have directed the miners to additional self-rescuers – or even completely out of the mine.
Rescue efforts did not get underway for eleven hours after the explosion. Federal law requires that two rescue teams be on hand before a rescue can begin. The nearest federal rescue team had to be called from another mining company 70 miles away, and even that company could not locate all the rescue team members immediately. The first one did not arrive until seven hours after the explosion. The second team did not arrive for four more hours. A note left by one of the miners indicated they were still alive until an hour before the rescue began.
The Sago Mine operators and federal and state government all have blood on their hands from this disaster.