Don’t Let Them Tell You Strip-mining is Safer for the Workers

Today, another strip-miner died when the excavator he was operating rolled into a pond.   Doubtless Patriot Coal is more concerned about losing the excavator.

This marks the 9th surface mine fatality of 2009 in the United States. There have been two deep mine deaths this year.

One of the most commonly deployed arguments for mountaintop removal is that it is safer for the miners. This line of reasoning completely ignores the fact that mountaintop removal is MUCH more dangerous to the people who live around the operation. But notwithstanding this huge gap, the argument is still wrong.

Since 2006, there have been 15 surface mine fatalities in West Virginia compared to only 8 deep mine deaths, despite the fact that there are twice as many deep miners as mountaintop removal workers!

I have exhausted myself explaining how strip-mining is harmful to those who aren’t getting paid to do it, i.e. the surrounding residents.  Here I will point out a few reasons while mountaintop removal is dangerous to the strip-miners themselves.

Most laborers on a strip-mine spend 60 hours a week loading a truck full of debris, driving it to a valley, and dumping it in the valley. Wince and repeat.  Needless to say, this work is extremely monotonous.  After months of the same routine, the truckers who only make about 8 dollars an hour naturally get a little burnt out.  And since these trucks with 20 foot high tires weigh ten times more than your average 18 wheeler, bad things can happen when their drivers become careless.

One of the most common ways to die on a strip-mine is to be run over by one of these trucks. Another common fatality involves a trucker rolling over the edge of a valley fill while dumping his load.  Or in this case, an excavator operator rolled into a pond. There have been other cases of people dying in fires or falling off of huge excavators.

The natural hazards of operating HEAVY HEAVY machinery are bad enough. Things get much worse when the low paid and overworked operators try to beat the monotony. An informant once told me that every other trucker did pills. I personally know of one mtr worker who trades his wife’s xanax for ridilin.

To make matters even worse, another informant once told me that a lot of the equipment used at these sites is out-dated or mechanically flawed. A couple days before the “unannounced” inspections, the bad machines are put to pasture.

There is no justification for mountaintop removal. It has to stop. We have to stop it.


You can read more about the accident and probably receive updates at Ken Ward’s blog:


18 Responses to “Don’t Let Them Tell You Strip-mining is Safer for the Workers”

  1. Ken Ward gives some good information about the mine where the death occured:

    The Samples Mine is a non-union operation and is consistently among the top producing surface mines in West Virginia, though production dropped off last year, from more than 3 million tons a year to about 2.4 million tons, according to federal data.

    Parts of this operation were shut down two years ago, and then cited for dozens of serious safety violations, in a bizarre explosives accident.

    Inspectors discovered the mine operator and contractors were improperly using explosives from the old Talon Manufacturing to boost their standard strip-mine blasting methods as part of a U.S. Army plan to dispose of old munitions from Talon.

    Also, there have been at least three other mining-related deaths at the Samples Mine since 2001. Here’s a rundown of those:

    – Nov. 1, 2001 — Gary Wayne Moore, a 25-year-old truck driver, had started his shift at about 4:30 p.m. and made one round trip from the mine to the coal-dumping facility. He parked and exited his truck, walked around to the passenger side and positioned himself between the tractor and trailer, directly in front of the tractor’s rear tires. The truck drifted forward about 20 feet down a 9.4% grade, and struck the rear of the next truck parked in line. Moore was crushed by the tractor tires.

    The MSHA report on Moore’s death concluded:

    The accident was caused by failure to set the vehicle parking brake, block the truck against movement, inadequate task training, and air leaks on the truck. The trailer service side air supply hose was found disconnected. Disconnecting this hose would cause the brakes to release. An air leak was found in the service side air supply hose glad hand connection and the trailer dump gate valve.

    But, MSHA investigators also found problems with the truck’s brake system, and noted that records could not be found to show that truck drivers had received task training related to the braking systems, adding:

    Several drivers interviewed during the investigation did not understand the trucks braking system and admitted to exiting their trucks without setting the parking brakes. A citation was issued for inadequate task training.

    Catenary Coal paid $1,197 in fines and trucking contractor Kt Trucking paid $483.

    – On Dec. 26, 2002, 48-year-old miner Dan Gray was going home after he worked all day on the dragline at the Samples Mine. He had left his cell phone in the machine’s cab, and tried to go back and get it. As it walked, the dragline’s giant mechanical foot stepped on him. Co-workers didn’t notice his body until 8 1/2 hours later.

    MSHA’s report concluded:

    The root causes of the accident were the failure of management to enforce its policy governing boarding and leaving the dragline, management’s failure to provide alternatives for communication for all persons approaching the dragline from the parking area, the opportunity for persons to board or leave the dragline without the knowledge of the operator, and the accessibility of the buzzer controls to persons standing on the ground within the swing radius of the machine.
    Catenary paid $20,060 in fines.

    – On Dec. 2, 2004, 44-year-old contract employee William S. Woods was using a chain saw to cut a standing tree which contained a “hanger tree,” which had fallen and become lodged into the standing tree. Woods cut the standing tree and the hanger tree fell on him, crushing him.

    MSHA concluded:

    The accident occurred because the danger tree, which was observed by the foreman, was neither marked nor taken down to assure that the other tree cutters would not expose themselves to the hazardous condition. Neither was the hazardous condition reported to the operator nor corrected. The failure to confirm communication concerning the danger tree between the foreman and the victim was also a factor in the accident.
    The logging contract firm, Mountaintop Clearing LLC, paid $217 in fines.

  2. watcher Says:

    I suppose the root cause of a bad accident or death involving activists ILLEGALLY boarding the dragline would be the fault of management. Would Mountain Action Network also be accesed a 20,000 dollar fine? Its time for this nonsense to stop before someone else gets killed. As for Mr Ward at the Gazette, he’s the new soup nazi of climate change.

  3. MSHA’s website lists 2 of the 9 deaths this year as underground. Does this guy know anything about mining? In 2008, 15 miners died underground. Perhaps ths news group would like to hire me to check some stats for the “artist.”

    • In 2008, there were only 3 deep mine fatalities in the United States. This is from MSHA fatality data.

      I did miss two underground deaths this year. I will change that.

      However, you are missing the main point: strip-mining is just as dangerous to workers as deep mining.

      • The point is that your stats and story are flawed enough that I see it as soon as I start to read- no one can believe the rest of what you right.

      • Greg, I think you are just looking for an excuse to ignore the fact that strip-mining is just as dangerous to workers as deep mining.

      • On MSHA’s website in 2008 deaths -5,7,8,9,10,11,12,14,15,16,17,18,21,23 and 24 are listed at underground mines. will get you in the door, just follow the links from there. 2007, 23 of 31 were underground. 2006 30-some died underground of a total of 47. You might want to check things before you start throwing numbers around.

      • Greg,
        I have checked with my source and I think the numbers he gave me were for West Virginia only.

        I should have made that clear.

        I honestly appreciate the information to which you have directed me.

        However, even your data adds to my argument that strip-mining is very dangerous to the workers. Just because there haven’t been as many aggregate deaths, consider that there are at least twice as many underground miners as surface miners. Proportionally, there have been more fatalities on strip-jobs.

        One cannot justify mountaintop removal on any ground, much less the myth that it is safer for workers.

  4. Watcher, you aren’t seeing the point.

    The dragline shouldn’t be there in the first place. The people who are making millions of dollars by destroying the earth with these heavy machines are responsible when they cause death.

    • If the dragline shouldn’t be there, how far would like to carry this train of thought? Want to move back into the ocean we evolved from? And the lines about routine is laughable. So no one in a factory gets bored with their job? Perhaps we should ship everyting by auto since the railroad gets tired of looking at the rails? Without coal America grinds to a halt. The guy was trying to make a living- something less and less folks seem to want to do. He made a mistake, it can happen anywhere, his just happened to be in a place you won’t get a second chance. We know what the odds are when we take these jobs. You take care of as many people as you can watch out for on the jobsite. It really makes no difference, surface or underground, you face odds of being injured. But this the American way, whoever mines the best/cheapest keeps their jobs.

  5. randyclements Says:

    enzlwv,what is the point to this article?as far as i can read,it is another way to smear a coal mine.this man died on a mine site,he lost his life and that is bad enough.if he had been working in any other field,would you have brought out the fact of other deaths in his field.i highly doubt that.his name would have been placed in the obituaries with maybe the cause of his death.ken ward jr. even went as far as pointing out that samples is a mtr there a reason for that?anyone familiar with samples already knows that bit of you drag another coal company through the mud just to make a point at the expense of one man’s death.if your going to be an enviromentalist,be one.try writing about the big picture of global warming and what everyone should do.don’t just blame coal for the downfalls of this state and for global warming.unless you start from the bottom and work your way around,your not going to get anything acomplished other than another coal war,but then that would sell newspapers,wouldn’t it?talk about the pot coloring the kettle black with that last comment”The people who are making millions of dollars by destroying the earth with these heavy machines are responsible when they cause death.” try taking a look at southridge center and that new addition to route 35.but then thats”progress”!

    • What do you mean by another coal war? Do you mean being violent toward coalfield residents who are trying to save what is left of their land and heritage from the ravages of mountaintop removal?

      The coal industry has been waging war in Appalachia for over a century. It has operated solely for the profits of its stockholders from the Northeast. As such, it has forcefully resisted anything that stands in the way of a better bottom line: unions, severence taxes, environmental concerns. It has viciously slurped out the wealth of Appalachia and has left behind poverty and environmental degredation. In the process, it has caused tremendous social harm and cultural damage:

  6. randyclements Says:

    to what you said,if you know this pill taker and you haven’t reported it,then you are just as responsible when he kills someone as that driver is.also,i must have been on some mine sites that,for some reason,played by the rules.i’ve seen mining inspectors shut down this equipment for as much as a crack in the winshield,but you wouldn’t know that.i’ve seen mining inspectors shut down coal trucks for mis-adjusted brakes,and if you have a person driving a truck and doesn’t know anything about the working brakes on their equipment,especially as young as they are,then you need to find out who passed them on their cdl is a required part of the cdl classes and exams that you know how to adjust them and how they to admiting parking on a hill without setting their brakes,then they shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel of a truck in the first place.

    • There is no need for me to report one pill taker. The drug abuse is so wide spread I would imagine that companies have to know about it—especially since they are supposed to drug test (even though the tests can’t detect certain pills after a few days).

      In fact, I would not be surprised if certain operations tacitly approved of the drug use. Since the beginning of civilization, exploiters have given their workers drugs to keep production up in the face of oppressive monotony. Plus, a drugged-up workforce is not likely to concern itself with unionizing.

  7. EZLNWV You sir miss the point. The dragline was there legally, the activists were not. Was the illegal boarding of this machine the fault of management? If one of the actvists were injured or killed in this invasion responsibility should lay at the door of the group’s they represent like Mountain Action ,OVEC ,Coal River Mt Watch . I still assert the companies affected should test the financial depth of these group’s pockets. Company encouragment of drug use? I think your jumping the shark here.

    • The dragline is there for a terrible purpose: to destroy so a few stockholders can amass huge profits. Just because these same stockholders have a vast influence on the law and can decide what is legal, it doesn’t make the dragline less terrible.

      The protesters were there to expose the injustice of a law that protects draglines over the people and the land.

  8. Look guys, mountain top mining is killing people. innocent people, and not just the workers either. It has to go

  9. I am wondering if anyone knows anything else about th Dolet Hills accident . Stanley Freeman was my dad and I need answers! We got the report back from MSHA they found that the company was guilty of HIgh neglegence. The company has even told the employees that they are guilty however on the paperwork they state otherwise what can I do ?

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