Friday, October 28, 2011

Security chief caused Upper Big Branch disaster?

A year ago, the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia suffered a catastrophic explosion that killed 29 miners and wrecked the mine. It was the worst mine accident in decades.
At the time, the miner's union blamed management, and management blamed an act of God. Inspection records revealed a number of safety writeups, but those of us with practical experience know that inspectors always write up something, it's their job. The seriousness of the safety writeups was never discussed in the public press or the internet, at least not at a level that rose above partisan fingerpointing.
After a year of investigation, the government finally prosecuted and obtained a conviction yesterday. Trouble is, Hughie Elbert Stover, the convicted defendant, was the mine security chief. They convicted him on charges of destroying paperwork, and being obstructionist.
The SECURITY CHIEF caused this disaster? Security chiefs supervise the guards on the gate, the night watchmen, and issuance of security badges and parking stickers.
The mine explosion might have been caused by a lack of ventilation, broken gas detectors, inoperative fire extinguishers or failure to wet down coal dust. None of these things is under the control of the security chief.
Sounds like the Feds were unable to find or prove negligence on the part of mine management. But after all the furore, the Feds had to bring home a scalp. Well, they have one. Maybe Mr Stover didn't preserve all the paperwork, or maybe he just called the prosecutor a Yankee carpetbagger, but his job didn't give him the power to cause the disaster.

1 comment:

Evan G. said...

He was convicted on two felony counts because he lied to the court.

He denied that he warned the mining teams when MSHA inspectors arrived, but in fact he told his security guards to pass the word along to management on-site. While this isn't a criminal act and anyone who has worked at any job would want a heads-up that when an inspection was about to happen. Felony for lying to the court.

Number two is more damning that he destroyed thousands of pages of safety records *after* the accident. That gets him with a felony for obstruction of justice.

The stupid thing is that he should have cooperated with the Feds and got to the bottom of why the mine wasn't up to code.

You are correct that he's the one of the few people the Feds can scalp, but that's only because he destroyed the documentation that could've found out who was responsible for the dangerous conditions in the mine.