Greed before Safety in Mining Disaster

Kim Bobo |

Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that the former director of Massey Energy, Donald Blankenship, was indicted on four criminal counts by a federal grand jury for violating mine safety rules and deceiving federal inspectors. The indictment claims that his willful disregard for safety laws in order to make more money resulted in 29 men dying in West Virginia at the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. 

Finally, a move to seek justice for the 29 mineworkers died because of greed.

The report is amazingly clear about the role played by greed. It indicates that Mr. Blankenship ignored safety violations “in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money.” Unfortunately, Mr. Blakenship is not alone when it comes to putting profits before people and greed before safety. Poultry workers have serious hand and wrist injuries because the line speeds are too fast and there aren’t enough workers on the line. Fast food workers are burned because they aren’t taught how to handle grease and hot pans or are not given adequate protective gear. Roof workers fall off roofs, injuring or killing themselves, because contractors don’t invest in protective harnesses. 

The response from Blankenship’s lawyer is truly breathtaking. His lawyer claims, “Don Blankenship has been a tireless advocate for mine safety.” There are many things one could say that might have been close to the truth. For example, perhaps one might have said Blakenship has been a leader in the mine industry or an active public citizen (he’s a large contributor to conservative causes) or something else, but a safety advocate? Really?

I don’t know what will happen to Mr. Blankenship. The company that now owns the mine has paid criminal penalties to the Department of Justice. Subordinates have pleaded guilty in criminal cases. Surely, something will come of this case. Perhaps Mr. Blankenship will go to jail. He should. He put profits before people and greed before safety. Unfortunately for workers, he’s not alone.