UMWA Issues Own Report on Sago

March 16, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) released its own Report on the Sago Mine Disaster of January 2, 2006.

The Union believes that there is absolutely no clear evidence to support the theory that lightning was the cause of the explosion. Further, there is no evidence that lightning striking the ground near a mining operation has ever traveled into the underground area of a mine, without the presence of a conduit from the surface into the mine, and then caused an ignition or explosion of gas or dust.

The Union has determined that the most likely cause of the explosion was conditions contained solely within the sealed area of the mine where the explosion
occurred. The lightning strike theory is based entirely on circumstantial evidence and is so remote as to be practically impossible.

The UMWA concludes that the most likely cause of the explosion was frictional activity from the roof, roof support or support material which ignited the methane-air mixture. The union firmly believes that 12 men are dead today who should not be. The UMWA believes that if the mine’s operating company, the International
Coal Group (ICG) had put safety ahead of profit and if the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) had followed the mandates established
by Congress in the 1969 Coal Act and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, all 12 of the trapped miners would have survived and given the circumstances it is likely all 13 would be alive today.

The Agency’s decisions over the past several decades to promulgate regulations, grant petitions for modification and create policies that contradict the intent of Congress by reducing or eliminating the legislated protections played a major role in the tragic events of January 2, 2006.

Likewise, decisions Sago mine management made in operating the mine, including ventilation plans, roof control plans and its extremely rare practice of second mining created conditions in the mine that were inherently risky. The Union believes that the company’s flawed plans and mining practices contributed to the devastating events of January 2, 2006.

Knowing the cause of the explosion is important so that steps can be taken to prevent a similar situation from happening again. However, regardless of the cause of the explosion in this instance, had MSHA followed the mandates of Congress, and had ICG operated the mine with an eye firmly focused on miners’ safety, there is every reason to believe that every person underground that day would have survived.

The company issued a news release March 15 that quoted its president and chief executive officer Ben Hatfield as saying,

The UMWA’s report is nothing more than political grandstanding. The report is wholly unreliable as an investigatory finding and is designed solely to further the union’s political and organizing agenda.

See also, the first interim staff report to the House Committee on Education and Labor, Implementation of the MINER Act Is Proceeding Too Slowly (2/27/07). George Miller, (D-CA) proposed more stringent legislation last year, H.R. 5389.

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