Unsafe mine roofs

Published:

Lexington Herald-Leader

A coal executive whose companys negligence has been cited in the death of two miners vows to vindicate his employees.

His vow isnt to make the mines safe but to challenge the citations. How heartwarming.

This is the same coal company that did nothing for the wife and family of one of the dead miners while they waited for days outside the companys gates, by the roadside in August heat and rain, for word from rescuers.

The word, when it finally came, was the worst. Russell Cole, 39, died as a result of an Aug. 3 roof collapse at Black Mountain Resources Stillhouse Mining operation in Harlan County.

It took searchers 3-1/2 days to dig through the fallen rock and find his body. Also killed in the massive rock fall was miner Brandon Wilder, 23. Two rescuers were injured.

Black Mountain Resources had a history of sending miners under unsafe roofs. In another show of its humanitarianism, the company resumed coal production before Coles body was recovered.

Last week, state and federal agencies cited the company for multiple violations.

According to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, the miners who died were working under an inadequately supported roof.

MSHA also said the company was aware of the hazards but let miners keep working without warning them or fixing the problem, and that the company failed to provide adequate training to its employees.

The crew had been retreat mining, setting off a series of planned roof collapses by removing the pillars of coal that remain after the rest has been removed.

Retreat mining is an inherently risky practice that has killed 17 miners in the last seven years.

Ross Kegan, vice president of Black Mountain Resources, told The Associated Press that the company would challenge the citations because government investigators accepted the word of a single miner who said that a crack in the mine roof was ignored before the cave-in even though it should have served as a danger warning.

Kegan said others in the crew contradicted the testimony.

We will not rest until we have cleared the names of our employees and seen that their testimony is validated, he said.

Of course, the employees and their families would probably rest easier if Kegan and the company concentrated instead on improving safety and training at its mines.

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