The state Mine Safety Office identified the victims Tuesday morning as Eric Legg, 48, of Twilight, and Gary Hensley, 46, of Chapmanville. They were working the evening shift when the accident occurred at around 8:47 p.m.The deaths occurred at Patriot Coal's Brody Mine No. 1. There are two things to know about that. One is that the Mine Safety and Health Administration had found a pattern of violations at Brody Mine No. 1 last October, a determination "made on the basis of repeated violations of mandatory health or safety standards at the mine that could significantly and substantially (S&S) contribute to the cause and effect of safety or health hazards." Patriot Coal is disputing that designation, which was based on 18 citations for "conditions and/or practices that contribute to ventilation and/or methane hazards," 20 citations for "conditions and/or practices that contribute to emergency preparedness and escapeway hazards," and many more.
State mine safety officials said the accident may have been caused by a “coal outburst,” which is a sudden rush of coal and gas.
Second, Patriot Coal itself basically came into existence to screw workers. Peabody Energy spun Patriot off into a separate company, giving it less than 20 percent of Peabody's assets and 40 percent of its retiree health and pension obligations. Patriot acquired another spin-off company with a lot of liabilities, then declared bankruptcy and went to court to be allowed to dump its retiree health benefits, slashing benefits and pensions for 13,000 workers and retirees. What's more, 90 percent of the retirees never worked for Patriot at all; they were just shifted to its books so they could be robbed.
How surprised can we really be to see a pattern of safety violations that may have contributed to the death of two miners coming from a company founded on disregard for workers' health? At a minimum, our surprise has to be less than our rage.