MSHA Expands Investigative Team; Massey Wants Public Hearing

The Mine Safety and Health Administration also has formed an internal review team to examine its actions in connection with the Upper Big Branch Mine before the April 5 explosion there.

MSHA made a dual announcement today, saying it has created a supplemental investigation group to help its accident investigation team determine what caused an April 5 explosion at Massey Energy Company's Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va., and also has formed an internal review team to examine MSHA's actions prior to the explosion. Massey today issued a statement calling on MSHA "to conduct its investigation through a public hearing, rather than through closed door sessions."

The MSHA announcement said the supplemental group will be headed by Robert Phillips, who was manager of MSHA's Coal Mine Safety and Health District Office in Vincennes, Ind. before retiring after a 27-year career at the agency.

"We need to use every available tool to establish the cause of this tragedy that took 29 coal miners' lives," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "The work of this special team will be part of MSHA's investigative process, and it will give family members and others the opportunity to share information they might otherwise not feel comfortable passing along." According to MSHA, Phillips' team will monitor and respond to an anonymous tip line through which victims' relatives and members of the general public can share information that may be relevant to the accident investigation. The phone number is 877-827-3966.

Massey's statement said the coal company "strongly supports the principle that the investigation into the Upper Big Branch accident must be independent, honest, and aggressive. Transparency is an important element of this process, and we accordingly call for MSHA to conduct its investigation through a public hearing, rather than through closed door sessions. To be credible, any such hearing must also be fair. Any hearing must encompass the basic principles of due process. To the greatest possible extent, basic protections must be in place to ensure that the hearing develops a complete and balanced public record. Massey supports a hearing that is fair and credible, as well as open and transparent."

The internal review team's leader is Jack Kuzar, manager of the Coal Mine Safety and Health District Office in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

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