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Massey Energy's Flawed Approach to Safety

“Every organization is designed to get the results they get.” How apropos is this quote taken from Dave Hanna’s book on organizational design. Three quotes from Massey management tell the tale.

First, Ex CEO Don Blankenship’s quote taken from the April 7, 2010 Cincinnati Enquirer, “ I think that I’ve proven that we run safer mines – you know, most of the time – and accidents sometime happen.” This statement was made after the Upper Big Branch (UBB) disaster where 29 workers were killed. Does this statement reflect the mindset that safety is of the upmost importance? Not a chance. Safety is not something you do most of the time and accepting that accidents sometime happen is a recipe for disaster which is what the UBB explosion was.

Next, in response to the report by an independent investigative panel Massey stated, “Our experts continue to study the UBB explosion and our goal is to find answers and technologies that ultimately make mining SAFER.” (emphasis added) What is wrong with this statement? If Massey was truly committed to running a safe operation they would have stated, “…ultimately making mines SAFE.” SAFER is not SAFE. I guess if the next Massey disaster only kills 20 workers they met their objective of running a SAFER operation than the one that killed 29. There is only one approach and that is to MAKE MINING SAFE period, not SAFER.

Finally, in the same response to the independent investigative report they say, “We have been examining where improvements in methane monitoring can be made and we HOPE (emphasis added) to develop some better technologies as a result of our investigation.” How is that for rock solid determination. They HOPE to develop improved technologies. Again, a Company truly committed to safety would take the approach that they WILL develop improved technologies.

One can clearly see from examining these three quotes that indeed Massey Energy is perfectly designed to get the results they get. Those results left 29 miners dead on May 5, 2010.

Dr. R. D. Fulwiler, CIH, CSHM

Technology Leadership Associates

Cincinnati, OH

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