Mine Where Two Workers Died Had Accident Rate Twice The National Average

CREDIT: AP/Janie Osborne

A mine employee stands in the entry of the Signal Peak Energy mine in Roundup, Montana on November 9, 2010.

On Sunday, two miners at the Revenue-Virginius Mine outside of Ouray, CO died of carbon monoxide poisoning, while 20 others were sent to the hospital. The mine, which reopened in 2011 after being closed for decades, has an accident rate that is more than twice the national average and its safety “violations-per-inspection-day” rate is nearly three times the national average for underground mines, according to KALW. It has had 25 violations since August of last year.

The source of the gas is unknown and under investigation, but authorities are looking into whether a small explosion could have been the source. It doesn’t appear to have been caused by an equipment malfunction. The two miners who lost their lives were 34-year-old Nick Cappano and 59-year-old Rick Williams. The other miners are expected to recover.

The mine has received 11 citations from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) this year, paying $3,853 in penalties, including one for $2,282 related to a lack of berms or guardrails on roadways, railroads, and dumping sites. It received three citations in October for a lack of cleanliness and orderliness, failing to safely secure gas cylinders, and failing to inspect or correct defections in equipment.

So far there have been 36 deaths in mines this year. There were 37 last year. Three coal miners died in three days in October, a string of consecutive accidents that hasn’t occurred in 10 years.

Workplace safety inspection agencies, such as MSHA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), will feel the blow from sequestration if cuts continue next year. MSHA’s budget would be reduced to $353 million from $379 million in 2012. President Obama’s budget also called for lower MSHA funding, and the agency has said it will focus its more limited resources on enforcing health and safety standards in coal mines and inspections of non-coal mines, reducing resources for education and training, information resources, and the devision that reviews operator plans for ventilation and controlling the roofs of underground mines, among other things. As Ken Ward Jr. reports, inadequate plan reviews have been linked to several mine disasters, including how well ventilation plans were assessed at Massey Energy before the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster that killed 29 people.

OSHA’s low funding and constant budget cuts mean that the average workplace only sees an inspector every 99 years. Yet there has been a string of deadly workplace accidents this year, including a fertilizer plant in West, TX; two different chemical plants in Louisiana; a grain plant in Indiana, and a gas tank plant in Florida. An average of 13 workers died on the job each day in 2011.