The sad, quiet death of Bud Morris – father, husband, motorcycle afficianado

November 10th, 2006 by Julie Ferguson

Early this year, a tragedy played out in headlines as a dozen miners were trapped in the Sago mines. The nation kept vigil with families waiting for possible word of rescue, and the nation wept reading the poignant notes that the workers scrawled to family members in the last minutes before they died.

Three days before this, 29-year old father of two Bud Morris lay bleeding to death beside his amputated leg in H&D Mining’s Mine No. 3 in Harlan County, Ky. Two of the mine’s medical technicians were with him, but neither applied a tourniquet. They had not been trained in how to do this, despite amputations being a relatively common injury.

His story and many others appear in a special report on coal mine safety by Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette, the first in an a series of planned reports. Ward reminds us that while the group deaths make the headlines, most miners quietly die alone, “crushed by heavy equipment, ground up by runaway machinery, buried beneath collapsed mine roofs.” By examining some of these deaths and putting a human face on them, Ward graphically demonstrates that their stories are no less unsettling and the tragedies no less moving for their singularity.

Reading the details about how coal miners die is gruesome reading, but these are stories that cry out to be told and Ward seems just the person to carry the message. His painstaking work combing through Mine Safety and Health Administration data and other records reveal highly troubling facts:

  • Nine of every 10 fatal coal-mining accidents in the last decade could have been avoided if existing regulations had been followed.
  • Mine operators were faulted for not performing — or incorrectly performing — required safety checks in nearly one-fourth of the mining deaths between 1996 and 2005.
  • More than one-quarter of the fatal accidents involved mining equipment that operators had not maintained in safe working condition.
  • Mine operators violated roof control, mine ventilation or other required safety plans in 21 percent of the coal-mining deaths examined.
  • Mine managers did not train or provided inadequate training to miners in more than 20 percent of those accidents.
  • If all 320 miners’ deaths (from 1996 to 2005) are counted, the median fine so far paid by coal operators is $250 per death.

Many mine safety experts say that with coal prices high, safety is secondary to production right now. Most experts agree that the deaths occur because regulations and laws are not being followed or enforced. One safety activist calls coal mining “an outlaw industry,” and it’s hard to argue with that assessment when reading this report.
We learned of this report from Jordan Barab, who tells us that this week marked the death of the 45th coal miner, the fourth death in the last three weeks. If you read Workers Comp Insider regularly, you know that we link to Jordan’s blog frequently because he tells the stories that otherwise might go unnoticed. This week, he is hopeful as he presents his checklist of safety priorities for a new Congress.