Steps to take now to ward off defectors in the event of security fraud
Are Mines Doomed to be Dangerous?
The successful rescue of the 33 miners trapped underground in Chile was a fantastic human interest story - but it once again heightened scrutiny of this historically dangerous industry. It did not help matters when one Massey Energy worker told the CBS - following the 2010 death of 29 coal miners in West Virginia: "There's no safe mines. I don't care where you go. You're not gonna find a safe mine. When a man goes (into a mine), he knows that could be it. ... You stick your head between two rocks to make a living, you know you're taking a chance."
In December, Alpha Natural Resources agreed to pay $209 million to settle civil and criminal penalties linked to the incident that it inherited when it bought Massey Energy six months prior. The Labor Department had identified more than 300 violations to the Mine Safety and Health Act related to Massey Energy's accident.
While there has been controversy over whether the Mine Safety and Health Administration has been effective in improving mine standards, preliminary data for 2011 shows the number of mining citations and orders were down, and there was progress at 14 mines notified in 2010 that they might be in violation of standards. While federal agencies aim to improve safety oversight, experts say mining companies must constantly analyze hazards, operating procedures and risk levels, while consultancies, including Zurich, offer expert advice for assessing mine safety and devising emergency plans.
Yet critics say these measures are not enough. One New York Times op-ed called for criminal prosecution in such cases, writing: "It is long past time for Congress to update our mine safety laws so that violations can be prosecuted as felonies, particularly in cases where miners are killed."
What else can be done to keep mines safe - and who is responsible, government or business?