Friday, December 29, 2006

This Date in Fire History - Dec 29

On this date in 1908, an explosion at the Lick Branch coal mine in Switchback, WV, claimed 50 (or 51) lives. A second explosion at the same mine, two weeks later, on January 12, 1909, killed an additional 66.

Obviously, many of the safety features and procedures that govern today's mining operations didn't exist 98 years ago, but as we've seen with more recent disasters like the January, 2005, disaster at the Sego mine -- also in WV -- mining is, and probably always will be, a dirty, hard, dangerous job.

Any time you tunnel deep into the earth, whether for a coal mine or to build a roadway under the English Channel, you run the risks of collapse, flooding, fire, explosion, or toxic gases like methane and carbon monoxide.

While it is probably impossible to make mining a risk-free enterprise, we could almost certainly reduce the death toll by abolishing the bush administration's business-friendly (and hence, worker un-friendly) policies and re-institute reasonable and effective mine inspections under the Mine Safety and Health Administration and similar state agencies, and by creating incentives (such as tax credits, or hefty fines for violations) for mine operators to improve their safety records. We should also ensure that miners are paid wages commensurate with the risks of their occupation, and further, ensure that their dependants are cared for after a disaster.

One other thing we can and must do is learn from our mistakes. New Mexico did just that: in March of 2006, Governor Richardson signed into law the New Mexico Mining Safety Act, which was based, in part, on lessons learned from Sego. In June of 2006, New Mexico fined Phelps Dodge $50,000 for violating the new law.

I wasn't able to find any links, but I seem to recall that Sego had been cited -- but not fined -- for numerous safety violations over the year or two prior to the January explosion.

We've all heard about the Cheney adminsitration's double-super-secret energy policy, which, for all practical intents and purposes, was developed by the enrgy industry. Do you really believe that the energy conglomerates are going to "waste" money on safety, when they could use it instead for dividends?

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