Fighting for Justice in the Coalfields

ACLC staff bring miners’ perspective to Alpha Foundation meeting

ACLC staff Steve Sanders, Wes Addington, and Amelia Kirby attended the inaugural meeting of the Alpha Foundation, a new foundation devoted to funding improvements in mine safety.  Formed as a part of the settlement for the Upper Big Branch mining disaster that killed 29 men, the Alpha Foundation’s initial meeting was an information-seeking session to identify priorities for funding.  ACLC director Steve Sanders spoke about the need for coal miners to be actively involved in assessing and assuring the safety of mines,”One of the causes [of mining accidents] is the attitude that comes down that miners should not complain about unsafe conditions,” Sanders said. “That is not a good attitude. Miners have to be the primary advocate for safety in the mines. They have to be encouraged by management to be that advocate.”

Mine safety projects pitched to foundation
By Ken Ward Jr.
The Charleston Gazette
Advertiser
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Mine safety and health experts from around the
country gathered in Charleston Wednesday to begin talking about how
$48 million in new research money could be best used to help protect
the nation’s coal miners.
Three top researchers leading a new foundation put together by U.S.
Attorney Booth Goodwin heard presentations from academics, labor
leaders, industry lobbyists and safety advocates at the Embassy Suites
about how the money should be spent.

Keith Heasley of West Virginia University, David Karmis of Virginia
Tech and David Wegman of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell were
named to lead the effort by Goodwin and Alpha Natural Resources.

Alpha is funding the foundation as part of its $209 million deal to
avoid any corporate criminal prosecution for the April 5, 2010,
explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, which Alpha acquired as part
of its purchase of Massey Energy.

“The goal of the foundation is to make sure our best and brightest
minds are working on mine safety and have the resources they need,”
Goodwin said. “If we can accomplish that, we’ll see breakthroughs that
will transform mining in the years ahead. We want a future where
mining is as safe as any other job.”

Panel members hope to begin accepting specific research proposals from
academics and nonprofit groups in January, and approve the first
projects in June. They plan to spent Alpha’s $48 million contribution
over a six- to eight-year period, providing a significant infusion for
coal-mining safety research.

Dennis O’Dell, safety director for the United Mine Workers union, told
the research panel that technology and research on keeping miners safe
and healthy has lagged behind the focus on increasing coal production.

“Miners can mine the coal faster and at a faster volume, but the
problem with this technology is that the safety end of it hasn’t kept
pace,” O’Dell said.

Heasley, Wegman and Karmis heard presentations about a variety of
topics, ranging from improved mine rescue efforts to black lung
disease, from miner training to ventilation of underground mines.

Steve Sanders, a lawyer with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in
Kentucky, said he hopes the panel considers research into how to
encourage miners to speak out about their safety concerns.

“One of the causes [of mining accidents] is the attitude that comes
down that miners should not complain about unsafe conditions,” Sanders
said. “That is not a good attitude. Miners have to be the primary
advocate for safety in the mines. They have to be encouraged by
management to be that advocate.”

While neither Goodwin nor Alpha will control how the research funding
is distributed, Goodwin said he hopes there is a focus on preventing
accidents over responding to them.

“I’m in the prosecution business, but I would prefer to prevent crimes
from happening rather than coming in afterward and prosecuting them,”
Goodwin said.

Wegman said it’s going to be important for the panel to figure out how
to avoid duplicating ongoing research that is receiving other funding
from the government or private industry.

“We had at first what seemed like a lot of money and now seems like
very little,” Wegman said after hearing presentations on research
options. “I’m eager to find our way into an efficient system to
identify the priorities.”
Heasley, Wegman and Karmis heard presentations about a variety of
topics, ranging from improved mine rescue efforts to black lung
disease, from miner training to ventilation of underground mines.

Steve Sanders, a lawyer with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in
Kentucky, said he hopes the panel considers research into how to
encourage miners to speak out about their safety concerns.

“One of the causes [of mining accidents] is the attitude that comes
down that miners should not complain about unsafe conditions,” Sanders
said. “That is not a good attitude. Miners have to be the primary
advocate for safety in the mines. They have to be encouraged by
management to be that advocate.”

While neither Goodwin nor Alpha will control how the research funding
is distributed, Goodwin said he hopes there is a focus on preventing
accidents over responding to them.

“I’m in the prosecution business, but I would prefer to prevent crimes
from happening rather than coming in afterward and prosecuting them,”
Goodwin said.

Wegman said it’s going to be important for the panel to figure out how
to avoid duplicating ongoing research that is receiving other funding
from the government or private industry.

“We had at first what seemed like a lot of money and now seems like
very little,” Wegman said after hearing presentations on research
options. “I’m eager to find our way into an efficient system to
identify the priorities.”

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