MSHA Launches Probe into Sago Mine Explosion

Jan. 5, 2006
MSHA has begun its investigation of the West Virginia coal mine explosion that killed 12 miners and seriously injured another.

The explosion, which occurred Jan. 2 at the Sago Mine in Upshur County, W. Va., trapped the 13 miners underground and triggered a massive search-and-rescue effort by federal, state and local officials. It also left many unanswered questions, such as what sparked the blast and what caused the breakdown in communication that left miners' relatives believing for several hours that their loved ones were alive.

"The purpose of MSHA's investigation is to determine what caused the explosion and whether any safety and health standards were violated," said David Dye, acting assistant secretary for mine safety and health. "Then we can take effective action to prevent such tragedies in the future."

An independent, eight-member team of MSHA mine safety professionals will evaluate all aspects of the accident and response, including potential causes, compliance with federal health and safety standards and how emergency information was relayed about the trapped miners' condition, the agency says.

The team will examine the accident site, interview mine personnel and others with relevant information, review records and plans and inspect any mining equipment that was involved in the accident, according to MSHA.

Findings and conclusions will be summarized in a formal report that will identify root causes of the accident and document how the incident unfolded. Any contributing violations of federal mine safety standards that may exist also will be cited at the conclusion of the investigation.

MSHA District Manager to Head Team

The investigative team is made up of federal mine safety professionals and experts from around the country.

Richard Gates, MSHA district manager in Birmingham, Ala., is heading the team. Gates has held a number of positions in his 18-year career with the agency, including ventilation specialist, mining engineer and assistant district manager. Assisting Gates will be:

  • John Urosek and Richard Stoltz, ventilation experts in Pittsburgh;
  • Dennis Swentosky, ventilation supervisor in Hunker, Pa.;
  • Robert Bates, electrical supervisor in Pikeville, Ky.;
  • Joseph O'Donnell, field office supervisor in Bessemer, Ala.;
  • Clete Stephan, an engineer in Pittsburgh; and
  • Gary Harris, a special investigator in Barbourville, Ky.

James Crawford, Tim Williams and Bob Wilson, attorneys with the Department of Labor's Solicitor's Office in Arlington, Va., will assist the investigation team.

Throughout this process, MSHA says it will work closely with the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training to gather the facts. Since the initial hours of the incident, MSHA personnel have maintained a constant presence at the disaster site, accompanying mine rescue teams underground, providing technical assistance and monitoring ongoing conditions at the site.

Sponsored Recommendations

Free Webinar: ISO 45001 – A Commitment to Occupational Health, Safety & Personal Wellness

May 30, 2024
Secure a safer and more productive workplace using proven Management Systems ISO 45001 and ISO 45003.

ISO 45003 – Psychological Health and Safety at Work

May 30, 2024
ISO 45003 offers a comprehensive framework to expand your existing occupational health and safety program, helping you mitigate psychosocial risks and promote overall employee...

DH Pace, national door and dock provider, reduces TRIR and claims with EHS solution

May 29, 2024
Find out how DH Pace moved from paper/email/excel to an EHS platform, changing their culture. They reduced TRIR from 4.8 to 1.46 and improved their ability to bid on and win contracts...

Case Study: Improve TRIR from 4+ to 1 with EHS Solution and Safety Training

May 29, 2024
Safety training and EHS solutions improve TRIR for Complete Mechanical Services, leading to increased business. Moving incidents, training, and other EHS procedures into the digital...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!