US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Harkin Statement on Mine Safety Report on Cause of Upper Big Branch Disaster

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

WASHINGTON – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, released the following statement after the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration issued their final report on the tragedy at the Upper Big Branch mine, citing an irresponsible corporate culture as the root cause of the disaster and fining the mine’s owner, Massey Energy, more than $10 million dollars:  

“Today’s report confirms what we have long known – that blatant disregard for basic safety practices by the leadership at the Upper Big Branch mine was responsible for the deaths of 29 miners.  Now that we have the final report in hand, it is time to move forward and take whatever steps necessary to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again. 

“The assessment by MSHA of the largest civil fine in the agency’s history, along with the historic settlement agreement in the company’s criminal case, sends a clear and unequivocal message to all mine operators that cutting corners on worker safety will not be tolerated.  But strong punishments for misconduct are only part of the solution.  We also need to give safety authorities the tools they need to prevent a future disaster before it happens. 

“While this hyper-partisan atmosphere in Congress makes bipartisan legislation extremely difficult, the safety of America’s miners has historically been a bipartisan issue.  I hope that this report will spark renewed interest on both sides of the aisle in a strong mine safety bill that will ensure that America’s miners can go to work each day with confidence that they will come home safely at the end of their shift.” 

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