A roof fall at the Dotiki Mine in Hopkins County, Kentucky has killed at least one miner. A second miner is still missing, and the search for him continues. Dotiki Mine has a terrible safety record, Bloomberg News reports:

Alliance’s Dotiki mine ranks seventh in the U.S. by the number of “significant and substantial” violations accrued since January 2009, according to U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data. The operation has collected 321 citations, 35 percent more than Upper Big Branch.

… Significant and substantial, or “S&S,” violations are those that are “reasonably likely to result in a reasonably serious injury or illness under the unique circumstance contributed to by the violations,” according to MSHA.

The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward tallies seven disasters that killed nine miners over the past five years at Alliance mines.

According to Bloomberg, the search team can’t yet identify the body that’s been found, because the miner is trapped beneath a rock. So, two families are still waiting to hear about the fate of their loved one. Our thoughts are with them.

Updated, 4/30: The rescue team has now found the bodies of both miners.


President Obama has just proclaimed April 28, 2010 as Workers Memorial Day. His official proclamation states:

This year marks the 40th anniversary of both the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, which promise American workers the right to a safe workplace and require employers to provide safe conditions. Yet, today, we remain too far from fulfilling that promise. On Workers Memorial Day, we remember all those who have died, been injured, or become sick on the job, and we renew our commitment to ensure the safety of American workers.

The families of the 29 coal miners who lost their lives on April 5 in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia are in our thoughts and prayers. We also mourn the loss of 7 workers who died in a refinery explosion in Washington State just days earlier, the 4 workers who died at a power plant in Connecticut earlier this year, and the 11 workers lost in the oil platform explosion off the coast of Louisiana just last week.

Although these large-scale tragedies are appalling, most workplace deaths result from tragedies that claim one life at a time through preventable incidents or disabling disease. Every day, 14 workers are killed in on-the-job incidents, while thousands die each year of work-related disease, and millions are injured or contract an illness. Most die far from the spotlight, unrecognized and unnoticed by all but their families, friends, and co-workers — but they are not forgotten.

The legal right to a safe workplace was won only after countless lives had been lost over decades in workplaces across America, and after a long and bitter fight waged by workers, unions, and public health advocates. Much remains to be done, and my Administration is dedicated to renewing our Nation’s commitment to achieve safe working conditions for all American workers.

Providing safer work environments will take the concerted action of government, businesses, employer associations, unions, community organizations, the scientific and public health communities, and individuals. Today, as we mourn those lost mere weeks ago in the Upper Big Branch Mine and other recent disasters, so do we honor all the men and women who have died on the job. In their memory, we rededicate ourselves to preventing such tragedies, and to securing a safer workplace for every American.

I’m told that President Obama is the first president to issue a proclamation for Workers Memorial Day. This is a strong signal that his administration recognizes the importance of worker health and safety.

Committees in both the House and Senate will be holding hearings for Worker Memorial Day. The official date for Worker Memorial Day is April 28th, but the Senate is holding its hearing this afternoon.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions’  “Putting Safety First: Strengthening Enforcement and Creating a Culture of Compliance at Mines and Other Dangerous Workplaces” is scheduled for 2pm on April 27th in 430 Dirksen.

If you’re in the DC area, join us tomorrow (April 28th) in front of the Department of Labor (200 Constitution Ave. NW) at 8am for a gathering with family members who’ve lost loved ones to workplace disasters. We’ll then head to the House office building for the  House Education & Labor Committee’s Workforce Protections Subcommittee hearing, “Whistleblower and Victims Rights provisions of HR 2067, the Protecting America’s Workers Act.” It’s scheduled for 10am in 2175 Rayburn. Celeste will be one of the witnesses.

And no matter what you’re doing tomorrow, take a moment to think about all the workers who’ve been injured and lost their lives while on the job – and what we can and should be doing to make workplaces safer and healthier for all.

Yesterday, family members, friends, and neighbors of the 29 miners killed at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine gathered for a memorial service at the convention center in Buckhannon, West Virginia. They were joined by Governor Joe Manchin, members of West Virginia’s Congressional delegation, Vice President Biden, and President Obama. At the start of his remarks, the president read out the names of the miners who lost their lives in the April 5th explosion:

Carl Acord. Jason Atkins. Christopher Bell. Gregory Steven Brock. Kenneth Allan Chapman. Robert Clark. Charles Timothy Davis. Cory Davis. Michael Lee Elswick. William I. Griffith. Steven Harrah. Edward Dean Jones. Richard K. Lane. William Roosevelt Lynch. Nicholas Darrell McCroskey. Joe Marcum. Ronald Lee Maynor. James E. Mooney. Adam Keith Morgan. Rex L. Mullins. Joshua S. Napper. Howard D. Payne. Dillard Earl Persinger. Joel R. Price. Deward Scott. Gary Quarles. Grover Dale Skeens. Benny Willingham. Ricky Workman.

At his Coal Tattoo blog, Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette gives a moving description of the service. It begins:

Read the rest of this entry »

By Rena Steinzor, cross-posted from ACSblog

On the list of federal agencies decimated by the Bush administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) deserves to be placed right near the top. Here is an agency that for decades has struggled with a tiny budget to get the job done, only to be taken over for eight years by a group of industry representatives dedicated to lowering the cost of doing business. What’s left for the Obama administration — and David Michaels, the head of OSHA — has been what I’d technically define as a “mess.”  

It’s in that context that a group of Member Scholars of the Center for Progressive Reform released Workers at Risk: Regulatory Dysfunction at OSHA. We wanted to examine what has gone so wrong at the agency, and explore what the Obama administration can do within existing law to get the agency on track. (Legislative changes to the OSH Act would be useful as well, but that’s for another day’s discussion).

Read the rest of this entry »

By DemFromCT, cross-posted from Daily Kos

Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA
Maryn McKenna
Free Press (Simon & Schuster)
Hardcover, 288 pages, $26.00 list
Kindle Edition $12.99
March, 2010

Money quote:

To his bewildered mother and grandmother, the swirl of controlled chaos around Tony was as inexplicable as his sudden collapse; the ICU seemed to be trying everything, hoping it would bring him back from the brink. No diagnosis was possible yet. They had been in the hospital barely an hour, not long enough for test results to make it down to the lab and back. But the medical staff had a strong suspicion of what could bring a healthy boy down so quickly, and the clue lay in one of the drugs they ordered pushed into his veins. it was called vancomycin, and it was famous in hospitals as a drug of last resort. They had used it against a bacterium that had learned to protect itself against most of the other drugs thrown at it, a particularly dangerous variety of staph called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus – MRSA for short.

Basic Premise: A medical journalist, steeped in the ways of the CDC from covering them as a beat reporter, follows the threat of MRSA from the earliest reports in the 80’s of hospital nursery spread to reports of modern outbreaks of MRSA (at first rejected by medical journals) to the farms where it incubates and the prisons where it spreads. There were missed opportunities to control spread, and we are still missing opportunities (see the food chain) to do a better job of detection and control before things get even worse than they are now.

Author: Maryn McKenna is a journalist and author specializing in public health, medicine and health policy. She previously published Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines With the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service. An award winning seven part series on flu vaccine was written for CIDRAP (University of Minnesota). Future projects include “a multi-year research project on emergency room overcrowding and stress”.

Readability/quality: This is an excellent read, with well researched science but written at a level any news magazine reader could follow. The author has the experience to write about the topic with authority, without hectoring or lecturing the reader.

Who should read it: Anyone interested in learning more about the well-publicized MRSA bacteria; anyone interested in epidemiology; understanding the relationship between animals, the food chain and human disease; and anyone who likes a good detective story. Well, medical detective story, anyway.

Bonus blog: Superbug: Research, strategies and stories from the struggle against methicillin-resistant Staph aureus (MRSA) maintained by the author.

Interview with the author:

Read the rest of this entry »

William “Bob” Griffith, 54 died at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine on April 5.   His tribute page says he

“came from a family of miners, went into the mines as a young man with his father and worked there like his brothers.  …When he wasn’t working, Griffith and his wife were fixing up their 1967 Camaro.”

His wife Melanie Griffith has now asked MSHA asst. secretary Joe Main twice (once on April 20 and April 23) for his agency to hold a public hearing as part of the disaster investigation.  In her request yesterday, she pleads for a response, noting:

“time is of the essence”

Her letter continues:

“It is our understanding that MSHA will begin witness interviews on Tuesday.  Family members deserve and demand full transparency and a voice as they go through what is undoubtedly the most difficult time of their lives.  Please respond to this most urgent request.”

I’m confident that Mr. Main and the Labor Secretary’s top staff will make a prompt decision on Mrs. Melanie Griffith’s request, or contact her (and the other Massey families) early next week to fill them in on their decision-making process.

The Coast Guard has just called off its search for the 11 workers who’ve been missing since Tuesday’s oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Hopes that the workers made it into lifeboats have faded. It seems likely that the workers were either killed by the explosion or unable to make it safely off the burning platform – but then their bodies will have sunk along with rig. Their loved ones will have the additional anguish of not knowing for sure what happened to them.

Tom Fowler at the Houston Chronicle’s NewsWatch:Energy blog has a bit more on who the missing workers were and their likely location at the time of the explosion:

The 9 Transocean workers and 2 M.I. Swaco workers have been missing since late Tuesday night when the rig appears to have suffered a blowout that caused an explosion and fire. Many of the men are believed to have been on the drilling floor of the rig at the time of the accident, an area where the blowout could have had the most devestating impact.

The rig was owned by Transocean and leased to BP. Fowler also notes that the rig was holding 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel at the time of the explosion, and crews are trying to clean up oil that has spilled.

Houston Chronicle reporters Tom Fowler, Monica Hatcher, and Brett Clanton note that this is one in a string of recent disasters at oil and gas facilities:

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by Ken Ward, Jr., cross-posted from CoalTattoo

Shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama issued a memo in which he asserted this his administration

“is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.”

The memo continued:

“We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

Well, Obama’s Labor Department has now received formal requests from two of the widows of the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, asking that the department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) conduct its investigation of the disaster through the public hearing provisions of the federal mine safety law.  But so far, neither the White House nor MSHA has publicly offered any response to these requests. 

Were MSHA to grant the requests, all investigative interviews would be open to the families, the press and the public.  There would be no exclusive access for coal company lawyers (as Gov. Joe Manchin’s mine safety director, Ron Wooten, has said the state would allow) or for the United Mine Workers union.  Everybody would be able to watch and listen, and know whether the investigation was asking the right questions and digging for real answers about what caused this horrible disaster.

Are there potential downsides to doing this through a public hearing?  Sure.

Read the rest of this entry »

On the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, I paid $0.05 for a plastic bag in which to place the whole wheat bread and organic fruit purchased at a local big box grocery store in Washington, DC.

Am I doing this right? Read the rest of this entry »


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