According to witnesses, supervisors at the mine went into a panic, ordering workers to shut down their machines and stop running coal.It didn't take long before the worker who'd called in an anonymous tip was fired.
There was good reason for the freakout. According to Labor Department documents, Armstrong miners weren't wearing their coal dust pumps. These are the devices that measure the amount of dust in a mine's atmosphere; when a company is sampling dust levels, miners are supposed to wear them for a full shift as they work. At Parkway, the MSHA report says an inspector found the two dust pumps hanging away from where the coal was being mined and at the power center, where the air is much cleaner. The pumps were guaranteed to register dust levels much lower than those to which miners were actually being exposed.
The MSHA is tightening the allowable level of coal dust and requiring a new kind of dust monitor that will make it harder to cheat—but there's little doubt that coal companies will continue to find ways to cheat, endangering their workers' health as they do.