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Friday, May 20, 2016

One Miner's Death And An Age Old Problem

On Tuesday, October 14, 2014, Justin Mize, aged 31, was killed in an accident at the Tinsley Branch Mine in Bell County KY and, as I recall, the story made little impact on the overall news reports of the day.  But then on March 7, 2015, I found an update to the story on the Internet news page of  WKYT-TV 27 with considerably more information about the reason Mr. Mize died and realized instantly that it was a story which deserved to be addressed in a blog post.  It is a story about a type of tragedy in the mining industry which was common in Appalachia before unionization  in the 1920's and which is becoming more common once again in the 21st century nearly a hundred years after these types of tragedies had nearly stopped.  Justin Mize died because he had been induced to enter a 67 foot deep auger hole to retrieve a broken chain from a mining machine.
The WKYT news story quoted the official report about the accident: "Foreman ****  asked the machine operator if he was going to retrieve the chain. When the operator refused, 31-year-old Justin Mize said he would go, even though other miners said it was too dangerous.  The rock fell on Mize seconds after he entered the opening. Workers were able to free him but he died later that day, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration." (WKYT-TV27)

Eventually MSHA concluded the investigation and released their report of the investigation.  The findings of the report clearly placed the blame for  Justin Mize's death on the foreman and mine management.  But the sad fact is that de-unionization of the coal industry and the breeding and nurturing of a strongly anti-union environment among miners as a result of structured programs such as the terribly misnamed "War On Coal" have created a level of employment fear among miners to the point that a miner would agree to enter a highly dangerous situation and place his life at risk at the behest of his foreman and in conflict with the admonitions of several of his coworkers. 

In the intervening time since this tragedy, Kentucky has made the terrible mistake of allowing a small right wing radical segment of the Republican party to elect Matt Bevin as governor.  The voter turnout was less than twenty percent and a far better Democratic candidate, Jack Conway, was defeated.  Almost immediately after his election, Bevin used an executive order to cease requiring state inspections of mines in Kentucky.  In the same executive order, Bevin also ended all requirements for state mandated training of mine foremen.  In the case of the inspections, Bevin's rationalization was that the federal government was already doing mine inspections and further inspections by state inspectors were unnecessary. He used the same rationalization to justify ending the state mandated training for mine foremen. 

A few days after this asinine action by the governor, I bumped into a former coworker and friend in a grocery store and we struck up a conversation which covered a range of topics including politics.  It is pertinent to state that this woman's father was killed in a mining accident in Ohio about twenty years ago when she was a small child.  It is also pertinent that she is a master's level social worker and a former winner of a Kentucky Governor's Scholarship.  She is generally well informed on news issues and coal mining issues.  But when I brought up the recent executive orders from Governor Bevin, she told me she was not aware of it.  This was a surprise to say the least.  But it is an example of how little attention most citizens of Kentucky have been paying to political actions in this state.  And that, my friends, is as great a tragedy as the death of Justin Mize or any other coal miner who dies because he is being coerced to perform a task which is clearly too deadly to be attempted.  This total ignorance of critical and destructive political actions by the citizenry along with their mass refusal to vote in crucial elections allows such Right Wing Radical Repugnicans as Matt Bevin to gain public office and perform asinine and destructive acts because they have no empathy or compassion for the citizens they allegedly "govern".  These executive actions by Governor Bevin will lead to the deaths of other men in unnecessary accidents just as Justin Mize did. 

Admittedly, there are far fewer miners working in Kentucky today and total numbers of fatal accidents and fatalities may be lower on their face in the four years to come.  But it can virtually be guaranteed that fatal accidents to man hours worked will be higher with such a governor in office who is willing to ignore the need for mine safety.  Statistically, the deaths per thousand man hours ratio will become higher because of this decision.  While the great majority of responsibility  for these future accidents and deaths will rest on the head of Matt Bevin, a portion of that responsibility also will rest on the heads of all the eligible Kentuckians who refuse to vote in such critical elections.  I will close this post with an axiom which I sadly find myself repeating more and more often these days: BAD POLITICIANS ARE ELECTED BY GOOD PEOPLE WHO DO NOT VOTE!

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