Print Page

IRT finds fault in MSHA protocols

Richard Gates addresses the media during the July 24 conference.

Sun Advocate community editor

Released in near conjunction with Mining Safety and Health Administrations record fining of Genwal Resources Inc. and Agapito Associates, an independent review of MSHA's actions at Crandall Canyon details the safety and health administrations shortcomings before, during and after the tragedy.

"The independent review team identified many deficiencies in MSHA's actions at the Crandall Canyon mine prior to the Aug. 6, 2007 accident, during the subsequent rescue operation and in other aspects of MSHA's performance, policies and procedures," states the reports findings near the end of their executive summary.

The IRT consisted of Earnest Teaster and Joseph Pavlovich, two former MSHA managers who have been retired from the agency for several years. According to the review, they were chosen to oversee the investigation because of their expertise in mining policy and because they have no current ties to MSHA. The teams report was submitted to Department of Labor Secretary Elaine Chow on July 21.

The IRT begins their report by attacking MSHA's plan approval process. Accusing the safety and health administration of:

Inadequate evaluation of the engineering data submitted by the operator to justify mining in the north and south barriers.

Inadequate oversight of the plan evaluation and approval process by District nine management, (the district which oversees Crandall Canyon).

Inadequate resolution of inconsistencies identified in the engineering data that was submitted to justify mining in the barriers.

During MSHA's report given at the Greenwell Inn on July 24, Distict 11 Manager, Richard Gates claimed that company officials had downplayed the mine's instability and engineers at Agapito had provided inaccurate and data.

"That area was primed for a massive pillar collapse," said Gates of the area where the Aug. 6 collapse occurred. "And the assumptions that Agapito made were overly optimistic."

Aside from improper evaluation of the pillars, the IRT accuses MSHA of "failure to properly consider the impact of the March 10, 2007 bounce in the north barrier section prior to approving retreat mining in the south barrier section."

The IRT team also outlines that there were contradictions between the approved plans and the engineering date that was submitted to justify plan approval.

While the IRT does stipulate that the mine operator was in violation of reporting statutes concerning the March 10, 2007 bounce, it does state that MSHA's Billy Owens, District Nine Roof Control Branch Supervisor was made aware of the incident.

"Notes taken by Owens indicates a 12:00 noon phone call on March 12 from Laine Adair, General Manager for the Crandall Canyon Mine, in which pillar bouncing is mentioned," states the IRT report. "Similarly, notes taken by William Reitze, District 9 Ventilation Branch Supervisor, pertaining to conversations with Adair on March 12 and 13 repeatedly use the word 'bounce'. The calls with Reitze pertained to an issue with constructing seals for the area, which ultimately escalated to the point where Davis was involved. As part of the seal issue discussion, Davis was informed that the section was being withdrawn due to bounces."

MSHA actions show that they did not deem this reporting as adequate.

They fined the mine operator severely for not immediately contacting MSHA within 15 minutes of the March 10, 2007 accident. An incident where a coal outburst in the Main West north barrier threw coal into the mine openings, disrupting regular mining activities for more than one hour.

"The failure to report this accident denied MSHA an opportunity to investigate it and learn that the mining methods provided inadequate protections," states the MSHA Enforcement Actions Report.

"This failure contributed to the Aug. 6, 2007 fatal accident."

The report goes on to further critique the MSHA's inspection of the mine and detail what they see as oversight of many problems concerning changes to Crandall's roof control plan in the months and days prior to the Aug. 6 accident.

The report, found at chronicles the step by step process Billy Owens, District Nine Roof Control Branch Supervisor, took as the roof control plan was developed and changed at Crandall Canyon.

The IRT also found fault in many of MSHA's actions during the rescue operation.

Stating, "MSHA's approval to use rockprops for lateral protection during the rescue effort was appropriate and was further supported by NIOSH. However, MSHA failed to utilize the knowledge and experience of the district nine roof control supervisor, the manufacture or the distributor and failed to solicit input from inspectors.

Even if this knowledge and experience had been utilized, there is no way of knowing where the support system could have been altered to withstand the forces of the Aug. 16, 2007 bounce." The IRT recommendation for this oversight was that MSHA develop a program to train personnel in charge of rescue and recovery operations. Along with many other training facets, the IRT proposed that this training addresses the importance of soliciting and utilizing the experience and expertise of all pertinent resources, especially concerning technical issues."

In a response to the IRT report, Richard Stickler, Deputy Secretary of Labor for Mine and Safety Health agreed that changes needed to be made within his organization. And he defended that fact that MSHA had already made many such changes.

"We should always look for additional and better ways to protect miners. The purpose of the IRT's report is to help MSHA learn from the Crandall Canyon tragedy and identify areas for improvement.

While we disagree with some of the report's findings, many of the recommendations are helpful and MSHA intends to adopt changes that will be effective in moving forward that goal," said Stickler.

A full account of Sticklers comments can also be found at the MSHA site, however, with presentations still to be made to the U.S. Attorney General the finger pointing over Crandall Canyon is far from over.

Print Page