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UBB Mine Disaster Shows Limits Of WV Workplace Safety Rules

May 12, 2010

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - West Virginia's workplace safety system is designed to encourage precautions by employers, although the deaths of 29 miners in last month's disaster at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine is showing some of the limits to that system.

Allan Karlin, a Morgantown attorney who represented the families of some miners who died in the Sago mine explosion in 2006, says most – but not all – employers are careful and conscientious.

"Some employers send a message, 'We don't care if we're going to lose some people, because we're going to make more money by pushing production.' The thing that really makes renegade employers wake up and look, is lawsuits."

Karlin sees Massey's offer of $3 million for each victim as "all but a confession" that conditions at the mine were bad enough that the company could be vulnerable to legal action.

"When companies offer that kind of money to families, they certainly do it because they want to discourage being sued and, let's face it, that's a lot of money. I am sure that Massey is hoping folks will take that money and not pursue lawsuits."

Massey has insisted that conditions at the mine did not rise to such a level that the company could be blamed for a lack of safety precautions, although a call requesting comment for this story was not returned. Since the accident, Gov. Joe Manchin has authorized a new hotline (1-866-808-0875) to which workers can call anonymously with questions or complaints about workplace safety.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV