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After more than 250 major MSHA violations, Patriot Coal’s Brody Mine No. takes the life of two West Virginia coal miners

Boone County, West Virginia

Continuous mining machine operators Eric D. Legg, 48, of Twilight, and roof bolter Gary P. Hensley, 46, of Chapmanville, were killed Monday night while retreat mining at Patriot’s Brody Mine No. 1 near Wharton in Boone County.  Federal officials said the mine had so many safety violations that it was deemed a “Pattern Violator.”

Patriot Coal’s Brody No. 1 was cited for 253 serious violations and its Pattern of Violations designation is for mines that pose the greatest threat to workers’ lives.

From April 1, 2013, to March 31 of this year, the mine was cited for 192 safety violations, including 33 for high or reckless disregard for miners’ health and safety.

The company had been slapped with 69 violations that required at least partial closure of the mine each time, according to Kevin Stricklin, MSHA’s administrator of safety and health.

Brody No. 1 was one of only three mines last year to earn the Pattern of Violations label that regulators have put greater emphasis on since the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion killed 29 miners about 10 miles away.

The designation subjects the mine to greater scrutiny from regulators, and it’s the strongest tool the Mine Safety and Health Administration has, said Stricklin.

Brody No. 1 is owned by a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Patriot Coal, which in its annual report last December blamed the problems on a previous owner and said it was “vigorously contesting” the designation.

The company said the workers were killed during a severe coal burst, where high-speed coal is shot at anyone in the way. The burst occurred as they were doing retreat mining.

“Rescue efforts later determined that the miners did not survive, and the miners’ bodies have been recovered,” said Amy Louviere, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.  A prepared statement from MSHA referred to the incident as a “ground failure,” while the state mine safety office’s initial report called it a “coal outburst.”

Retreat mining or “pulling pillars”, where the roof is intentionally collapsed to retrieve coal is one of the most dangerous types of mining.  “Inadequate mine planning or incorrect design can increase the occurrence of bumps in underground coal mines,” says a 1991 report by the U.S. Bureau of Mines.

So far this year, five coal miners have died in the US.  Three of these deaths, including the two at Brody make three deaths in 2014 in West Virginia, according to MSHA.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said in his own statement, “We know that mining deaths and injuries are preventable, and last night’s tragedy is particularly troubling given the operator’s history of safety violations.

“Every step must be taken to make sure this operator — and all operators for that matter — are held accountable for the safety and health of their miners,” Rockfeller said.

Coal industry representatives and lobbyists have vigorously opposed MSHA’s efforts to enforce its safety rules, with some companies, including Murray Energy, challenging the agency’s final rule in court. In Charleston during a public hearing in June 2011, West Virginia Coal Association Vice President Chris Hamilton also questioned the rule, given what he called “the increase in questionable citations issued by [MSHA] inspectors.”

Free Consultation with a West Virginia Coal Mining Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a West Virginia coal mine or other workplace accident and would like a free consultation with an experienced West Virginia coal mining accident lawyer, we invite you to call West Law Firm today for a free, no obligation consultation.  Our toll free number is 1-877-943-WEST (1-877-943-9378).  There’s never a fee until we recover money for you.

Our prayers and thoughts go out to Eric Legg, Gary Hensley, their family, and their community.  May they have peace.

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