Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sago Mine

Well, Aradia will be relieved when she gets up. They have found 12 of the 13 miners trapped in the Tallmansville, WV mine alive. Since she had a cousin down there, she'll be happy to hear the good news. Assuming her cousin isn't the one they found dead on the belt line.

Of course, everyone seems absolutely amazed at the number of safety violations the mine had racked up before this happened. Frankly, I don't know why. The mining industry in West Virginia has never been safe. My father was a coal miner for years and years, and he has horror stories that still fuel my mild claustrophobia to this day. When a half-ton chunk of rock crushing the leg of a co-worker is the START of your horror story, you know it's going to be bad. There's a reason dad always told me that he didn't care what I did, as long as I didn't become a coal miner. I have a friend who's dad was involved in state mine inspections and his stories would curl your hair, too. He primarily dealt with the mine owners, and there's a reason he was allowed to wear a gun at his job, too.

Coal mining just is not a safe industry, especially in WV right now. With the number of mines being shut down and the market for West Virginia coal so depressed, the temptation for companies to cut corners is always there. The logging industry in WV isn't much better. Aradia has a lot of family involved in that, and there have been several incidents in the decade that we've been together. Those tend to not make the national news though, since there's not as much drama in a single guy getting crushed under a log as there is in several men trapped in a cave-in. Unless you're the guy under the log, I suppose.

I work in the chemical industry, and I see the constant lip service paid to safety issues there, but I have to wonder how heavy the commitment to safety really is. There's always a trade-off with Safety, Health and Environment concerns. The value of a "lost time accident" versus how much is spent to prevent it is a very real consideration for companies in every industry. I'm not saying that companies put a value on a human life, or even a human limb, but the thing to remember is that the bottom line always has to be in sight for a company. It's responsibility is to it's share-holders or owners, and while it's true that accidental injury or death costs money, preventing those injuries costs money, too.

It's pretty obvious that the former owners of the Sago mine (Anker West Virginia Mining Co.) came down on the short-term side of that equation, and the new owners (International Coal Group Inc.) weren't hustling to correct the mistakes in their newest acquisition.


Anonymous Ranson said...

Keep an eye on the Washington Post for the next few weeks . . . they interviewed dad about this for the Sunday magazine.

10:42 AM  

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