Thursday, April 15, 2010

Obama blames Big Branch Mine Disaster on Management

Obama just got off national TV. He is blaming management for the accident. He gave no facts, just his conclusion "Management did it". Union people are always happy to hear that.
The real cause of the explosion was methane gas, which escapes from the coal. There are published standards for this, how much methane is allowable, periodic tests that must be run, and a requirement for ventilation. Obama did not discuss these issues at all. He did not show that mine management allowed methane to exceed published limits, failed to run required tests, or failed to ventilate the mine.
Management is strongly motivated to prevent their multi billion dollar mine from blowing itself to kingdom come. There is no return on investment after the investment blows itself away. If management was venal or incompetent Obama gave no evidence to support that view.
Citing a number of safety writeups from government inspectors is unconvincing. I used to be in that business. When I was inspecting, I could always find things to write up. Longer I looked, the more I could find. Unless it can be shown that methane was allowed to accumulate before the accident, it ain't management's fault.

2 comments:

Evan said...

In this case, it was management's fault. They ignored thousands of safety violations over the years and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Some are rather small, but others such as allowing dangerous levels of combustible gases to build up aren't.

http://www.msha.gov/PerformanceCoal/PerformanceCoal.asp

has a lot of information. I like the following chart as it shows their safety records compared nationally and regionally. Management really didn't care enough to fix the mine and people died.

http://www.msha.gov/PerformanceCoal/UBB_charts.pdf

Dstarr said...

I looked at the two links you furnished. The last inspection report for 4 April noted 0.0% methane in two places. This was a kinda slip shod report. For any important reading like methane concentration it is good practice to note the type and serial number of the instrument used to make the reading and note the date of calibration of the instrument. The inspector did not do so, which makes me wonder about his competence and the competence of his organization. If the instrument was out of cal, or inoperative, it might fail to detect dangerous methane levels.
There were repeated writeups for failure to meet the ventilation plan, but no description of said plan. The ventilation plan writeps lacked any readings of methane gas. Presumably if detectable, let alone dangerous, methane levels had been detected, the inspectors would have noted them the give weight to their writeup of ventilation.
None of the inspection reports had comments or endorsements from the mine operators. This is unusual. After a QC inspection, the inspectors writeups always came to me, and I was required to respond, in writing, to the inspector's gripes. This kept everyone honest. If the inspectors were being unreasonable, I could reply "Such and such reported discrepancy is in accordance with Tech Order such and such".
In short, I don't see evidence of management incompetence here. Incompetence would be allowing a dangerous level of methane gas to exist in the mine. The inspection reports would have to say something like "X.X% methane detected at location so and so, at XX:YY hours". I didn't see that.