April were able to come to the

April 5th,
2010 a series of powerful explosions tore through the Upper Big Branch mine,
southern West Virginia. The explosions lead to the death of twenty-nine miners
and left one seriously injured. The mine owned by Massey Energy and operated by
its Performance Coal Company(PCC) was around a thousand feet deep and over two
and a half miles long.-(giip) Massey Energy Company extracted coal from all
over the United States but their largest operations took place in Kentucky, Virginia
and West Virginia. It was the fourth largest producer of coal in the states and
it would create an annual yield of around 40 million tons with their website emphasising
the size and quality of their coal reserves. Using evidence left behind at the
scene investigators have concluded that the episode of explosions resulted from
an initial ignition of methane which is likely to have risen from the floor. It
is probable that friction between the shearer operator (a machine powered by
pressurized hydraulic fluid that’s used in longwall mining to cut vertically in
to coal) and the sandstone as it cut the top of the longwall cause a spark which lead to this
ignition.

The Governors’
Independent Investigation Panel(GIIP) were able to come to the following
conclusions after over a year of investigations. It came to light that the
explosion at 3:02pm could have been prevented if correct safety procedures had
taken place. They concluded that there were three corporations at fault. Massey
Energy’s pre-shift examination system failed to work meaning hazards were often
not recorded or corrected, MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) failed
to ensure that the company were not breaching federal laws. Finally West
Virginia Office of Miners Healthy and Safety Training (WVHST) were unable to
recognise the violations of its own laws by Upper big branch.

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As a result of the investigation a
number of risk control measures were discovered not to have been in place, 12
of these could have contributed to the events that took place on April 5th.

PCC and Massey consistently failed
to abide by the Mine Act and other safety regulations. A weekly examination on
the longwall bleeder
system was required to take place on the day of the explosion, the job
of this system is to suck the noxious gases away from dangerous areas and push them out
through a fan. It was later discovered that the examiners multi gas detector had
not been used for two weeks prior to the event. Air readings failed to be taken in a number of
locations so the actual quantity of air ventilating the long wall face was
unknown. The weekend leading up to the event was easter bank holiday and at
some point over the course of the weekend the de- watering pump had failed.
Consequently the ventilation was disrupted because water had been allowed to
build up in the entries where the fan was situated meaning air flow was
restricted down the passage.

Massey failed to demonstrate a
commitment to safety decisions and behaviours when they violated section 103(a)
of the federal mine safety and health act of 1977 which states that ‘in
carrying out the requirements of this subsection, no advance notice of an
inspection should be provided to any person’ Since the explosion it has been
bought to attention that workers were frequently informed on the day of an
inspection so would make a point of fixing any work shop hazards before
examiners visited. It meant that changes could be made such as reduction of
rock dusting and ventilation alterations. In some extremer cases foremen would
shut down the working section before the inspector appeared. Therefore the
point of the inspection was constantly defeated and the miners at Upper Big
Branch were unaware of the hazards in their working area.-(giip)(nrc)

MSHA regulations can only go a
certain way, there must be some degree of trust between them and the associations they
work with. However Massey consistently failed to put their employees welfare
ahead of their production targets. Massey managers would intimidate miners to
the point where they feared reporting problems within the work space depriving
them of the right to their own safety.

One MSHA regulation was that all
companies should keep an updated examination book recording all potential
hazards so that Massey and any Inspectors were aware of them and could take
steps to fix them. However Massey kept two record books which were not
consistent with eachother. They would record hazards in their own records but
fail to note them in the examination books preventing inspectors from assessing
the issues and ensuring they were fixed correctly.

Section 104a was violated as there
was a failure maintain the condition of the shearer. There were found to be two
worn parts on the outer ring of the cutting drum on the shearer. Both without a
carbide tip. Investigators believe that this contributed to the death of the 29
miners as a well maintained carbide tip reduces the friction between the shearer
and the sandstone as no contact is provided between the steal shank and the
longwall greatly reducing the chances of frictional ignition.

In addition to this denied opportunities to learn ways
t ensure health and safety, with approximately 113 of their miners not
recieving or completing experienced miner training. A further 42 performed
tasks on mobile equipment before receiving sufficient training in that task
area and 21 failed to carry out their annual refresher training. Even in cases
where experience training did take place the instructors were found not be MSHA
approved. It can be said that the lack of training is a contributory factor
towards the incident killing 29 miners as some of these men were present in the
rock dusting team and several operated the long wall shearer. Perhaps with
greater knowledge in their working areas the build up of coal dust and the
wearing on the blade of the shearer would have been taken as a more serious
note.

The missing water sprays from the
shearer fail to comply with the approved methane and dust ventilation plan
which was accepted in june 2009. The plan details that the long wall shearer
should be equipped with 109 water sprays and they should operate at a minimum
of 90 psi. On the day of the explosion this pressure was unachievable on the
tailgate drum as seven of the 43 were either clogged or had been removed.
Together with a maintained carbide tip, the water sprays act as a form of
provention against ignition from frictional heat generated by the shearer
striking the rock. It does not require detailed observation to notice the
absence of water sprays on the shearer which suggests either blatent ignorance
or an example of insufficient training. In addition the missing sprays had been
recorded in the set of books that were kept out of sight of the inspectors. In
march 2010 8 sprays were removed and the shearer continued to operate as
normal.

Operators at the upper big branch
refused to comply with the approved roof control plan in the tailgate entry.
The devised plan was to have support in the form of two rows of 8 cable bolts
or posts, however only one row of posts was installed and no cable posts. Since
the incident investigators have uncovered the source of the methane in the
mine. Fractures between shields near the tail gate are though to have emitted
methane which likely accumulated at the tail gate entry not far away. Investigators
managed to take from the aftermath of the explosion that the roof of the
tailgate entry had caved prior to the series of explosions. They made
observations from debris, coal dust and soot to conclude that the support in
the entrance had already failed before the explosion. If the roof had been properly
supported the methane would not have been able to accumulate as the t-split
ventilation would dilute the gas seaping from the shields. A smaller portion of
methane in the air would not have lead to an explosion killing 29 miners. In
addition by failing to follow through with roof control plans the tail gate
entry was not safe for mine examiners to access and therefore the required
examinations in that area were not able to take place.

If coal dust had not been allowed
to accumulate to a dangerous level the methane explosion would not have transitioned
into an even larger coal dust explosion and damage would have been more minor. In
places coal dust had been left to build up to as much as four feet deep and 120
feeet in length. This situation would have been obvious to any mining examiner
which leads investigators to believe that the problem was recorded hundreds of
times in pre and on shift examinations and were never taken care of. Most of
the accumulations were formed during initial stages of the process which started
on from March 2005 and so dust had likely been building up for years with little
action taking place to remove the hazard.

It was a
normal start to the day with 45 miners underground at 7 am and head and tail
gate 22 crews on their sections. These sections featured a mining machine
designed to remove and transport coal from the new longwall panel into shuttle
cars. At 10:00 the dispatcher is informed that they are no longer running coal
as the hinger pin, a metal pin used to attach the ranging arm to the shearer is
loose. The ranging arm is a metal component attached to both head and tail ends
of the shearer which moves vertically up and down to cut into the long wall
face. At 2:30pm fireboss Mike Elswick used his multigas detector and made five
measurements with readings of 0.0 percent CH4(methane) and 20.8% oxygen, but also
recorded that the conveyer belts needed rock dusting due to a large
accumulation of coal. This is a prime example of massey inadequately training
their examiners as other tests should have been recorded along the length of
the long wall face aswell as determining that air was moving in the correct
direction and taking velocity measurements at shields 9 and 160. Long wall HeadGate operator
Rex Mullins reports that the section will begin to operate within the next ten
minutes. At 2:40 a pres shift report is carried out which is a regulation under
MSHA which states an examination must take place three hours before the
beginning of any 8 hour interval where any person plans on working or
travelling underground. The levels still read 0% methane 20.8% oxygen. Tail
group 22 ride the mantrip, a shuttle for transporting miners through the
underground passage. At 2:42 they begin running coal. At 2:59pm the manual stop
button was engaged on the shearer cutting all power to the longwall. 3:01 p.m.
Explosion.

 

Along with previous violations UBB
failed to construct emergency evacuee training

 

The two main causes
for coal mine explosions are methane and coal dust. If A build up of methane
gas which is by product of coal comes in to contact with a source of heat like
a spark likely from the cutting plate of the shearer (as it can exceed ignition
temperature of methane) then providing theres around 5 to 15 percent of the CH4
mixed in the air an explosion is likely to erupt. The most dangerous
concentration is 9.5% of methane as this is the best oxidation point where
water carbon dioxide and a large amount of heat are created. It was thought
that the fire burned behind the shields near the tailgate for around 3 minutes
before coming into contact with this dangerous mixture of methane and air. Shock
waves are formed as the high temperature causes air to expand in the mine. This
results in a build up of air pressure as there is poor ventilation underground
so the air ahead of the combustion zone will compress and form a shock wave. Five
conditions are required in order to extinguish an explosion. Heat, fuel and oxygen
are commonly known to be required to keep the flame proprogating, but with the
addition of a confined space and the suspension of the fuel a explosion can be
formed.

Investigators have
lead to believe that in this case a methane explosion was closely followed by a
dust explosion.  They were lead to this
conclusion as explosions originating from methane would have volume explosion
pressure exceed 120 psi which there was not.  In addition, the amount of methane recorded
before and after the explosion lead to the same conclusion as not enough was
recorded to be a series of explosions caused only from methane. Although less
easy to ignite as it requires a high concentration of dust suspended in the
air, coal dust has a higher explosive pressure and heat value than methane so
is capable of causing a more disastrous explosion. The shock wave caused by the
original methane explosion cause cause the coal dust to suspend in the air and
the high temperature already in the mine can ignite the coal dust created an
enormous amount of energy. The shock wave also generates products of combustion
such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

However this chain
of events is preventable with the correct application and maintenance of rock
dust . In a low velocity explosion, the suspension of the coal dust can be
prohibited. The rock dust which is commonly pulverised limestone or dolomite
has a greater density than the particles of coal dust so when sprinkled on top
trap them beneath and prevent them from rising. In a high velocity explosion the
rock dust acts in a different way, the high velocity of the shock wave suspends
both coal and rock dust in the air. In this case the rock dust acts as a heat
sink by absorbing some of the heat from the air and preventing an explosion in
that way. The MSHA stipulate that ‘the law requires all areas of a coal mine that can be safely travelled
must be kept adequately  rock dusted
within 40 feet of all working faces.’

Since the event Upper Big Branch has been under a section
103(k) and has been under an on-going investigation which has lead to new
ownership and a different operating company. There was a clear violation of
international industrial safety regulations and the new owners must ensure they
take necessary safety procedures to prevent similar incidents re-occurring.
Although regulatory agencies play a crucial part in the prevention of such
events they must work in conjunction with the mine owners to ensure a safe
working environment by enforcing health and safety at its highest
levels.-(MSHA)

As a consequence of the event the
following penalties took place; a penalty of no more than $10000 for each
violation of a mandatory health and safety standard, a fine of no more tha
$25000 or imprisonment for no more than a year who refuses to comply with
sections 104, 107 and 105(c). More than one violation of these sections can
lead to a jail sentence of up to five years and fine of up to $50000. Other
penalties include up to $1000 or six months in jail for advance notice of
inspections conducted under the health and safety act of 1997. In addition to
this section 108(a)  states that a permanent
or temporary injuction will be instituted to any operators who fails to conform
to a list of requirements such as violating any sections of the act. The bar
chart in figure one demonstrates the number of violations made by Upper Big Branch
between the years 1995 and 2010 and figure two shows the number of dollars in
fines they paid leading up to and after the explosion in 2009.

On the 6th December 2011 MSHA
released its final report that consisted of 369 citations and $10.8 million in
penalties.

The cause of this
disasterous event that took place on april 5th 2009 consistently
roots back to Massey Energy’s negligence regarding the safety of its employees.
The company practiced procedures 

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