The Upper Big Branch South Mine near Montcoal, W.Va., is where “a methane explosion killed 25 miners and left four more missing and thought dead. The mine, operated by a subsidiary of Massey Energy Co., had been cited for several violations relating to proper ventilation.” This is “the worst mining disaster in over 20 years,” reports the Hill.
A suspect source, the United Mine Workers, “said that the mine had been the subject of 450 safety violations and that the company has paid over $1 million in fines last year.”
Regulation generally works to the detriment of those it is intended to help, since a less-than-honorable company will find the fine cheaper than the fixes needed to bring the mine up to par.
Update I (April 6): Coal-mining accidents always remind me—but not other media member, it seems—that men do society’s most dangerous jobs. Poor men, especially, go underground to make a living; have done so for generations.
Richard Llewellyn’s 1939 classic How Green Was My Valley (your children should have read it) depicts this reality in an achingly beautiful way. The book haunted me for years after I had read it, as a kid. “Margaret’s Museum” achieves a good deal on celluloid.
Update II: The following is from an 1935 article, “The World’s Most Dangerous Jobs.” Since then working conditions have improved for men because of advancement is technology, among other reasons. I also believe that workers in the fishing, timber and electrical power-line fields have overtaken miners as far as death on the job goes:
“‘COME quick! There’s a man hurt!’ Almost ten times every minute, more than 4,000 times each working day, that cry resounds somewhere among America’s great mass of industrial workers.”
“Once every ten minutes that cry means death for another working man. In 1933 it sounded the death knell of 46 men a day. These dying, injured, and maimed men were following ordinary jobs in most cases. They were not stunting aviators, daredevil race drivers, or human flies. Who then has the most dangerous job?”
With an accident frequency rate of 65.28 per million man-hours of exposure, say the Safety Council figures, the coal miner works at the world’s most dangerous job.
There are approximately a million miners in this country. While these men are working just one hour of one working day, more than 65 of them will be injured at their work.
The miner then has the world’s most dangerous job.
Second to mining, is lumbering. This occupation has an accident frequency rate of 59.67 per million man-hours of work. Third in the list of most dangerous occupations is the construction industry with a rate of 55.66.
And what is the safest job? At the top of the list of some thirty industries, accounted for in the figures of the National Safety Council, stands tobacco processing with a frequency rate of only 1.43, the safest occupation in this country!
For many years coal mining has led all other employments in the annual number of fatal and permanent injuries suffered in accidents.
Update IV (April 7): What I know about rescue protocol in mining accidents is dangerous, but not nearly as hazardous as the slow speed with which the rescue at the Upper Big Branch Mine is proceeding.
They’ve drilled one hole “to release enough methane gas so searchers can enter the mine.”
How many more holes must they bore before they’ll allow searches to brave the Pit?
Presently they appear to be endlessly testing air samples. Can you imagine the time lost sending samples to the feds? Even if they do it on location, which is what I presume is happening, from the vantage point of the relatives this rescue must looks like a Ninny-State operation.
Maybe the authorities involved have decided it is no longer a rescue, but a recovery operation. How I hope this is not the case.
Poor, poor people. But for the grace…