Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Profits before Coal Miners Safety

Recent coverage has concentrated upon the lack of safety and the seming lack of concern about the lives of miners in China . The latest report from the about the background to the Utah mining disaster reminds us that when it comes to making profit and risking miners , Chinese capitalism is no worse than American capitalism .

The Crandall Canyon mine collapse happened while miners were engaged in a method called "retreat mining," in which pillars of coal are used to hold up an area of the mine's roof. When that area is completely mined, the company pulls the pillar and grabs the useful coal, causing an intentional collapse. According to the American Society of Safety Engineers, retreat mining requires very precise planning and sequencing to ensure roof stability while the pillars supporting the roof are removed.

It is "the most dangerous type of mining there is," said Tony Oppegard, a former top federal and state of Kentucky mine safety official .

The reason the practice is used is that it pays off: The last bit of coal taken from pillars is pure profit, Oppegard said.

Mathematically a coal miner on a pillar recovery section was more than three times as likely to be fatally injured in a roof collapse than colleagues in other parts of a mine.

"Pillar recovery continues to be one of the most hazardous activities in underground mining," a National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health report said. Another NIOSH study six years earlier found the same thing. NIOSH said that during retreat mining nearly half of those fatal accidents happened during the removal of the final pillar, which miners call the "suicide pillar," said J. Davitt McAteer, former head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration . Although Bruce Hill, president of UtahAmerican Energy, Inc. which operates and co-owns the mine, called it a safe practice but it is definitely very safe sitting in the Company Directors office , issuing the instructions .

Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association, which represents mine companies in Washington has said "It's thought to be very valuable, useful,"

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