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Is it just me...

...or when it comes to coal mine safety, do miners always get the shaft?

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Face it, we never think of the people who do scary, difficult jobs until there is a tragedy. No one worries about the electrical worker climbing a utility pole in a snow storm until one of them is either electrocuted or falls to his death. Police officers and firefighters rarely invade public consciousness until the performance of their duty results in the loss of a life. The same is true of miners. The 29 men killed at the Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia would otherwise have lived and died doing a dirty, dangerous unpleasant job in complete anonymity. Now, in the aftermath of a predictable, unnecessary mine explosion, these miners will become symbols of the unsafe and deplorable conditions of the Massey Mining Company's operation. In a week, no one will care...again.

Mine safety is something everyone assumes is a given. Hell, it's 2010. The company store that Tennessee Ernie Ford sang about owing his soul to, is history. Children are no longer sent into the mines to sort coal. Black lung disease isn't the scourge it once was. We don't even endanger canaries anymore, right? Wrong.

Coal mines are not safe. They are not even reasonably safe. Conditions may be better than in 1900 but that is like suggesting that, because the Chinese have stopped chaining factory exit doors, conditions are now tolerable. Coal mines are dangerous because companies like Masey Coal have determined that it's cheaper to protest citations and delay safety improvements than take the costly action necessary to comply with regulations. The penalties for violations are so inconsequential that adhering to safety guidelines is unprofitable and consequently unthinkable. In their black little hearts, they mutter, "what's the big deal? They're just miners. We can always get more."

In a sane world, the fine for permitting unsafe methane build-ups in a coal mine should exceed that for allowing your dog to poop on the streets of New York. If a mechanic knowingly and repeatedly installs faulty brakes or tires on customers' cars, he will be prosecuted. If your neighborhood daycare center encloses their property with barbed wire, the full weight of the legal process will be brought to bear. However, if you run a dangerous business in an area of America where no other employment exists, your workers are prisoners and victims. You can always threaten to shut the mine down leaving your workers with the Hobson's choice of fear of their job or fear of no job. You can hide your unsafe enterprise easily because the New York Times rarely ventures into southern West Virginia. It's the perfect place to exploit people.

So Montcoal, West Virginia will bury their dead and life will continue in the mines. (The irony of spending a week digging the bodies out of the mine so they can be buried is lost on the owners and managers of Massey Coal.) Governor Joe Manchin of West Virginia will be reminded how important the coal industry is to a state where few other industries exist. Coal operators will promise change. State and federal authorities will demand compliance with regulation. The miners will shake their heads, grab their hard hats and return to the pit. In coal country no one's hands are clean for very long.

Originally posted to Is It Just Me on Wed Apr 14, 2010 at 09:55 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  thank you (5+ / 0-)

    for an incredibly sad but true assessment of the situation.  

  •  Seems to be the case (4+ / 0-)

    safety costs too much for the mine owners, apparently. Until and unless safety violations cost more, a LOT more, than the increased profits from ignoring safety rules (which still leave the job pretty dangerous), then nothing is going to change. Enforcement is the key.

    Joe Lieberman is a Chode.

    by dnamj on Wed Apr 14, 2010 at 10:03:47 AM PDT

  •  Non-union miners are sheep (3+ / 0-)

    Miners had some backbone from the 1890's to the 1930's and later.  Those were the days when miners had the backbone and good sense to organize and join the United Mine Workers union.  

    Too many current miners have no backbone and are unwilling to look out for their own safety and the safety of their friends and relatives.  They need to stop buying new pickup trucks and whatever else they piss their money away on and walk out of the unsafe non-union mines.

    Two other industries are even more dangerous than mining--logging and commercial fishing.

    There should be two types of mines--safe union mines, and even safer and better paying non-union mines where the mine owners do better for the workers to keep the union out.

  •  Thank you nt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    QuestionAuthority

    I volunteer for Jennifer Brunner current SoS running for US Senate from Ohio.

    by J Brunner Fan on Wed Apr 14, 2010 at 10:35:03 AM PDT

  •  A lot plays into this... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    arkylib

    The miners unions have suffered under the attack of the right-wing propaganda machine, as well as "Right to Work" (for less) laws.

    Many of these men and women have little alternative but to work in the mines unless they want to leave everything (including their family) behind. I can't speak to all states with coal mines, but WV's schools are not even close to the greatest, perhaps intentionally on the part of the 'bought and sold by business leaders' WV Legislature. The employment rate in WV is high even in good times. Times like these make it stratospheric, especially in the mining areas.

    WV is a low-tax state and highly conservative. Why, I can't fathom, given how little good it has done them.

    "Ridicule may lawfully be employed where reason has no hope of success." -7.75/-6.05

    by QuestionAuthority on Wed Apr 14, 2010 at 10:50:29 AM PDT

  •  Mining is the ONLY middle-class work a highschool (0+ / 0-)

    graduate can get.

    You can earn $50,000 per year in mining. Its a job where you can get rich without an education.

  •  Unfortunately unless they are unionized then they (0+ / 0-)

    are stuck under the thumb of the corporation.  Apparently this mine has tried to unionize 3 times in the last few years but Mr. Blankenship has busted it up.  He's into making money and NOT keeping people safe.

    "If you don't do it this year you'll be another year older when you do"-Warren Miller

    by fishgirl26 on Wed Apr 14, 2010 at 11:08:17 AM PDT

  •  You're wrong about this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    arkylib

    Face it, we never think of the people who do scary, difficult jobs until there is a tragedy.

    I think about them, and I know many people do, every single day. We think about them because we've either done similar work, or we are related to or know someone who does dangerous work. Not everyone, nor even the most important, gets to sit behind a  computer screen. Just sayin'.

  •  tipped and recommended (0+ / 0-)

    My father recently passed away of lymphoma. He worked in the mines for 20 years and was retired when he passed away. He was always telling us horror stories of what went on down there and he worked in a union mine. He almost drowned one time, and almost lost his thumb. I'm glad he never died in the mines, but sometimes I wonder if the stuff he was exposed to down there didn't contribute to his lyphoma.

    I thank you for this diary even tho it's bringing tears to my eyes because I miss my dad.

    I'm not a slacker...I'm just surrounded by overachievers!

    by arkylib on Wed Apr 14, 2010 at 11:23:30 AM PDT

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