Posts Tagged ‘fatalities’

Reflections On WCRI’s Recent Virtual Annual Conference: In A Word, It Was Excellent

Tuesday, March 30th, 2021

COVID-19 impact analysis

Last year, the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute held its Annual conference in Boston at the Westin Hotel on 5 and 6 March. The ballroom was full. COVID-19 was talked about in the conference and on the breaks, but it was too new to be on the Agenda. Everyone was doing elbow bumps instead of hand shaking. Four days after the conference wrapped, Governor Charley Baker declared a Massachusetts State of Emergency. The WCRI conference was likely the last one held in the City before everything shut down.

At that time, per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, the nation had seen ~139,000 cases and 2,425 deaths. In Massachusetts, where the conference was held, there had been 4,955 cases and 48 deaths.

The following month, the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) issued a Research Brief titled, COVID-19 and Workers’ Compensation: Modeling Potential Impacts. 

NCCI’s analysis projected a best case scenario, in which loss costs would increase $2 billion, and a worst case scenario, in which they would increase $81.5 billion, or 250% more than then current total loss costs. Willis Towers Watson also released a scenario-based analysis that suggested pretty much the same thing.

Also in April, the California Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (WCIRB) projected loss costs if conclusive (rebuttable) presumptions were provided to front line workers, something Governor Gavin Newsom actually did through Executive Order one month later, so the “if” became a “done.” The WCIRB report concluded costs would range “from $2.2 billion to $33.6 billion with an approximate mid-range estimate of $11.2 billion, or 61% of the annual estimated cost of the total workers’ compensation system prior to the impact of the pandemic.

A year later, at this week’s virtual annual conference, WCRI Economist Olesya Fomenko, Ph.D., reported results from her analysis of workers’ compensation claims in WCRI study states for Q1 and Q2, 2020. This period, ending 30 June, encompassed the pandemic’s first of what has been up to now three surges.*

Her data and presentation slides are preliminary, but more than likely will stand up to future scrutiny. Her findings confirmed what most students of COVID-19 were intuitively thinking. To wit, it does not appear that, at least through the study period of two quarters, COVID-19 would deal a death blow to the workers’ compensation industry. Claims in her analysis of 27 study states are plentiful, but relatively inexpensive. There is wide variation in the geographic distribution of claims, probably because COVID-19 surged at different times in different states. New York is not among the WCRI study states, but during the period of Fomenko’s analysis, it was the state with more COVID problems than any other. A lot more.

During the study period, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey had the most reported claims. Massachusetts claims were 42% of all reported claims in the study states and 59% of all lost time claims. Dr. Fomenko suggested that the presence of presumption laws, pay without prejudice (in the case of Massachusetts) and other compensability issues (in New Jersey) might is some way contribute to the high numbers in those states.

Looking at Massachusetts for a moment might be instructive.

At the top of this column we showed Massachusetts with relatively few cases as of early March, two-thirds of the way through Q1. Let’s look at Massachusetts now, at the end of Q1 a year later. The state has been hit hard, but has also rebounded. Here’s a look at the state by county:

As you can see, no county has had less than 3,000 infections, and three have had more than 10,000. But what came of those infections? How did the patients make out medically? Here is a look at cumulative cases from 9 March 2021 through yesterday, 29 March 2021.

There have been 17,130 total deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, but 97% of infected patients have recovered. Deaths are at 3%, which is less than the 5% predicted by the CDC one year ago. And this is the case for most of the country, and is one of the reasons Dr. Fomenko’s data shows claims to be relatively inexpensive.

NCCI Analysis

The WCRI studies define the concept of “early days.” So do those from the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). The point is, however, that analyses from both organizations appear to be congruent and complementary.

The lasting costs of COVID-19 to the workers’ compensation industry, aside from deaths, are going to come from permanent total and permanent partial disability awards. To that end, in October, 2020, NCCI published a Research Brief updating the Brief cited earlier in this column and titled, COVID-19 And Workers’ Compensation: Permanent Disability. These costs will be significant. NCCI’s analysis determined the average age of hospitalized COVID-19 patients at 49.5 years old. Average life expectancy allows for about 30 more years of benefits. The organization writes:

Given that severe cases are expected to have a higher likelihood of permanent disability, particularly PTD injuries, NCCI
assumed that all PTD claims would occur in this symptom grouping (infections and lung claims). Adjusting our PTD rate to between 0.0% and 1.5% to be applicable to only severe cases, we observe a PTD rate between 0% and 10% (= 1.5% / 15%) using the default Critical Care Rate from the NCCI Hypothetical Scenarios Tool.

Permanent Partial Disability cases are another matter. Here the frequency will be higher as well as the costs:

One interpretation of this assumption could be that moderate cases behave more like infection claims which tend to have a
near-zero PTD rate. If we compare the lung and infection PPD rates, we observe that lung claims have about twice the
likelihood of a PPD injury compared to infection claims. To the extent that moderate cases of COVID-19 behave like
infection claims and severe cases behave like lung claims, then a similar difference in the PPD rate may be expected. Under
this view, the Severe PPD rate would range between 40% and 50% with an implied Moderate PPD rate ranging between
20% and 25%.

With assumptions it clearly states contain wide variability, NCCI suggests the following COVI-19 benefits by injury type:

We’ll continue to follow the NCCI analyses as well as WCRI’s ongoing research.

Interview by John Ruser, PhD, with John Howard, MD, MPH, JD, LLM, MBA

John Howard is the longest serving Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, three terms and counting. He is a legend in the field, and WCRI attendees got a good look at why during this wonderful interview by John Ruser. Howard, who has more letters after his name than there are years in elementary and high school combined, put on quite a show.

Some people are one inch wide and ten miles deep; others ten miles wide and one inch deep. Howard seems to know no inch or mile boundaries.  His subject was The Future of Work, and he made a number of highly interesting and prescient points, even going so far as to describe Aristotle’s concerns about automation in the ancient world of 350 BCE.

Asked about fears of jobs disappearing because of Artificial Intelligence and automation, Dr. Howard pointed to a study showing that in 2018 there were 60% more jobs than existed in 1940. Jobs have always gone away, but they’ve been replaced, and then some, by new jobs.

He’s concerned about a safety ergonomic vacuum employers are going to have to manage somehow. He believes employers are facing a “real challenge” adjusting to the new Work From Home paradigm.

My question is: How do employers deal with, let alone manage, workers’ compensation claims bound to occur while working in the home. You’re at your desk or dining room table working, get up for lunch, fall down the stairs and break an arm. Is that compensable? Is your employer going to make you prove it actually happened while you were actually working, and not just taking Junior out to the back forty for a little tag football?

And what responsibility does an employer have with respect to OSHA’s General Duty Clause, the one about providing a safe and healthful workplace?

If anyone can figure this stuff out, my money’s on John Howard.

Conclusion

Under trying circumstances, WCRI did an admirable job of hosting its 2021 Annual Conference. I’m told attendees gave it high marks, as well they should have. At the end of the second day, Dr. Ruser announced next year’s conference as being back in Boston’s Copley Westin Hotel on 15 and 16 March 2022. And I have a suggestion: After this ridiculously stressful year, it would be helpful and probably appreciated to devote a session to the impact of COVID-19 on employee mental health. A lot has happened in the last year to the field of Behavioral Health. It seems to have fitted in quite well to the new paradigm called Telehealth. It would be interesting to learn about that.

 

* Yesterday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, “We do not have the luxury of inaction. For the health of our country, we must work together now to prevent a fourth surge. I so badly want to be done. I know you all so badly want to be done. We are just almost there, but not quite yet.” Walensky said she is now feeling a sense of “impending doom.”

**The Future of Work: The Economist is presenting a discussion on 8 April, at 4 pm, EST. To reserve a place, go here.

Workers Memorial Day – April 28.

Friday, April 26th, 2019

Today, just in time for Worker Memorial Day this coming Sunday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released employee injury and fatality data for 2017 contrasted with 2016. I guess you know the Great Recession is really over when worker injuries and fatalities reach pre-recession levels.

Compared with 2016, worker fatalities declined in 2017 – by 43 – from 5,190 to 5,147, a negligible and statistically insignificant difference of 0.8%.

Curiously, transportation incidents make up only 6% of non-fatal worker injuries, but 40% of fatalities. Essentially, 3% of all employment transportation incidents result in fatalities. Think about that the next time you merge into traffic on the freeway.

If you’ve ever wondered why car and truck manufacturers now devote so much effort to robotic, AI safety enhancements for their machines, you only have to look at the chart above to understand. They’re banking that taking the human out of the picture will reduce fatalities and sell more vehicles. In the end, everything reduces to economics.

Here at the Insider, we offer heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the 5,147 men and women who died on the job in 2017. May they rest in peace.

Workers Memorial Day: April 28

Friday, April 27th, 2018

worker memorial day poster

Every year, April 28 is Workers Memorial Day, a global day of remembrance for those who have suffered and died on the job, as well as a day to renew a focus and commitment to safer jobs and workplaces. It’s also an annual reminder that most workplace injuries are preventable in nature. The AFL-CIO first initiated Worker Memorial Day in 1970, the same year that Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

For more history on the event, see Jordan Barab’s post at Confined Space: Approaching Workers Memorial Day. He links to both the annual Death on the Job report and the National COSH annual Dirty Dozen 2018 report on “Employers Who Put Workers and Communities at Risk.” There are some familiar names on the list that some may find surprising.

To participate in Saturday’s commemoration or to learn more:

AFL-CIO: Find an event near you

OSHA: find an event near you

National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) – Events

28april.org – Hazards magazine and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)

 

Automation Designed To Keep People Safe Can Produce The Opposite Result Through No Fault Of Its Own

Monday, September 18th, 2017

A fascinating article in today’s Daily Alert from the Harvard Business Review describes how our dependence on automation can erode cognitive ability to respond to emergencies.

In “The Tragic Crash of Flight AF447 Shows the Unlikely but Catastrophic Consequences of Automation,” authors Nick Oliver, Thomas Calvard and Kristina Potocnik, professors and researchers at the University of Edinburgh Business School, report on their analysis of the horrific crash of Air France flight 447 in 2009. Their research, recently published in Organizational Science, describes in riveting detail the series of preventable cascading events that led to the deaths of all 228 passengers and crew.

Although the crash of AF447 is a transportation tragedy, it also can serve as a stark reminder that employees who depend on technology, especially technology that controls dangerous work, say self-driving 18-wheel trucks, for example, need a lot of training to take the right steps when technology reacts to emergencies. Without that training, the authors contend, the cognitive ability to take manual control and successfully deal with the emergency is problematic at best.

The authors provide an example:

Imagine having to do some moderately complex arithmetic. Most of us could do this in our heads if we had to, but because we typically rely on technology like calculators and spreadsheets to do this, it might take us a while to call up the relevant mental processes and do it on our own. What if you were asked, without warning, to do this under stressful and time-critical conditions? The risk of error would be considerable.

This was the challenge that the crew of AF447 faced. But they also had to deal with certain “automation surprises,” such as technology behaving in ways that they did not understand or expect.

The point here is the technology offering up the “automation surprises” was doing exactly what it was programmed to do. The technology did not fail; the pilots, all three of them, failed in their response to the “surprises.”

We are now at the beginning of a monumental shift in the way work (and play) is done. The natural gravitational movement of artificial intelligence assuming more and more control in our daily lives is unstoppable. Think of how it has brought tremendous improvements in air safety. To prove that, consider this astounding statistic: In 2016 the accident rate for major jets was just one major accident for every 2.56 million flights. But this bubble of safety can breed terrible complacency. How humanity deals with and prepares for the rude “automation surprises” that will surely come along on the way to the future should be a critical component in the thinking of organizational leaders and safety professionals.

 

Worker Memorial Day and a voice for the workers

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

April 28 is Workers’ Memorial Day, a time when workers and their families, labor unions and safety advocates commemorate workers who were killed on the job: 4,800 fatalities per year, or an average of 13 workers who lose their lives every day. The AFL-CIO dedicated the first Worker Memorial Day in 1970 as a day of remembrance for those who have been killed or suffered injuries/illnesses on the job. It also sheds light on the preventable nature of most workplace incidents with its theme of Remember the dead – Fight for the living.

When it comes to work fatalities, numbers don’t tell the whole story. Jordan Barab of the newly resurfaced Confined Space blog profiles some of these deaths in his Weekly Toll. It’s tough but important reading. Those of us who work in insurance can be focused on dollar and cents and lose touch with the real reason many of us entered the workers’ comp arena. And even the most dedicated number-crunchers among us see the wisdom that the least expensive claims are the ones that never happen.

Jordan’s blog focuses mainly on policy and political issues around worker safety, but he explains why he decided to pick up the grim task of compiling this list:

But ultimately, we’re only fighting the policy and political issues because working people are getting hurt and killed every day in the workplace, and more has to be done to stop the carnage. Today I resume a necessary — if depressing — task that I conducted every couple of weeks in the last version of Confined Space: The Weekly Toll, a list of every worker I could find that was killed in the workplace over the previous week or two. The main reason I started the original version of Confined Space in 2003 was that I realized that while a few workers killed in workplace incidents sometimes receive enormous media attention, most workers die alone and unnoticed by anyone except their immediate families and friends. Something had to be done to ensure that these thousands aren’t dying in vain.

Jordan has been a tireless voice for worker safety throughout his career. He was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017. Prior to that, he worked for the House Education and Labor Committee, the Chemical Safety Board, the AFL-CIO, OSHA and AFSCME. His Confined Space blog was one of the early blogs that inspired us as we launched Workers Comp Insider. He put his blog on ice while working for OSHA, but he has recently relaunched it and is an important voice in looking to the health and safety of workers – particularly in an administration that has pledged to cut regulations and funding for many programs.

We have talked about and are concerned about the defunding and elimination of the Chemical Safety Board. The administration has also rolled back some important albeit controversial OSHA regulations and it is expected that OSHA will suffer further curtailment. Scott Schneider looks at some of the programs that are at risk and why they are important in OSHA Regulations: The Next Target

The President asked businesses and industries for advice on which regulations should be cut and he received 168 submissions from corporations and industry special interest groups.  Unfortunately, eliminating many of these are likely to have a corrosive effect on worker health and safety. Meanwhile, for the voice and interests of the worker and worker safety, Confined Space is an important read.

9/11: A 15 Year Remembrance

Friday, September 9th, 2016

On September 11, 2001, the nation took the biggest of gut-punches. Thousands died that day and hundreds of thousands, all around the world, have died since. If you were in the insurance industry that day, you probably lost at least one friend, maybe more. I know I did. The world changed after that day, and barbarism raised its head like a volcano rising from the crash of tectonic plates.

First Responders have been particularly savaged. More than 5,000 have been victimized by cancer. Dr. Michael Crane, the head of New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital’s 9/11 Health Program Clinic estimates he sees ten to fifteen new cases per week. Today, CBS This Morning told the story of one of them, Sal Terderici. It is heartbreaking.

We all sought healing in our own ways. Because I’m a musician and a singer, I sought to deal with the tragedy by writing an anthem about it. I recorded it in Worcester’s Mechanics Hall and renowned guitarist Peter Clemente accompanied me. We gave the song to Denis Leary, a Worcester native who had lost a cousin, a firefighter, as he battled the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Company fire in 1999. Five of his cousin’s comrades also died in that fire. Denis became passionate about helping firefighters following that. You may recall his hit TV show, Rescue Me, which ran on FX from 2004 through 2011. Rescue Me was a seven year homage to a noble profession. Denis took our song and used it to help raise money for the fallen firefighters of September 11.

This coming Sunday will mark the 15th anniversary of, arguably, the worst day in American history. To mark the event, I want to share our anthem with you. You can find it here.

Tom Lynch

April 28: Workers Memorial Day

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

Each year, April 28 is designated as Worker Memorial Day, a day to mourn the dead and recommit to safety in the workplace. Despite progress in reducing on-the-job deaths, 13 workers are killed at work every day, with many more suffering grievous and life-changing injuries. Here are some sites and resources commemorating the day.

wmd
OSHA: Workers Memorial Day

Workers’ Memorial Day is observed every year on April 28. It is a day to honor those workers who have died on the job, to acknowledge the grievous suffering experienced by families and communities, and to recommit ourselves to the fight for safe and healthful workplaces for all workers. It is also the day OSHA was established in 1971. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their workers. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.

OSHA provides a clickable map to find activities near you.

safe-jobs

AFL-CIO: Workers Memorial Day

From this year’s  fact sheet:

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the effective date of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The Act — which guarantees every American worker a safe and healthful working environment — created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to set and enforce standards and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to conduct research and investigations. This year also marks the 47th anniversary of the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, and 39th anniversary of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act.

But despite the progress:

The Occupational Safety and Health Act is 45 years old, and is out of date. Millions of workers lack coverage, penalties are weak and worker and union  rights are very limited.

Thousands of workers still face retaliation by their employers each year for raising job safety concerns or reporting injuries —fired or harassed simply because they want a safe place to work. The OSH Act’s whistleblower and anti-retaliation provisions are too weak to provide adequate protection to workers who try to exercise their legal rights

In 2014, nearly 4,700workers were killed on-the-job by traumatic injuries and an estimated 50,000 – 60,000 died from occupational diseases. On an average day, more than 10,000 workers are injured or become ill because of workplace hazards, and 150 workers lose their lives as a result of workplace injuries and diseases.

See events listed by AFL-CIO, as well as this year’s fact sheet.

Other resources

 

Studies: Opioid epidemic grows; Is obesity a smoking gun in rise of prescription drugs?

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

You may have taken hope from studies that pointed to a decrease or leveling of the rate of deaths related to opioid and prescription drug use in 2012-2013. If so, the Centers for Disease Control wasted no time this year in throwing some cold water on those hopes.

On January 1, via the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the CDC issued new data on Increases in Drug and Opioid Overdose Deaths — United States, 2000–2014.

                      Age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths and drug overdose deaths involving opioids: US 2000–2014

mmwr opioid trends

Here are some of the key findings:

  • During 2014, a total of 47,055 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States, representing a 1-year increase of 6.5%, from 13.8 per 100,000 persons in 2013 to 14.7 per 100,000 persons in 2014.
  • Rates of opioid overdose deaths also increased significantly, from 7.9 per 100,000 in 2013 to 9.0 per 100,000 in 2014, a 14% increase.
  • In 2014, there were approximately one and a half times more drug overdose deaths in the United States than deaths from motor vehicle crashes
  • The 2014 data demonstrate that the United States’ opioid overdose epidemic includes two distinct but interrelated trends: a 15-year increase in overdose deaths involving prescription opioid pain relievers and a recent surge in illicit opioid overdose deaths, driven largely by heroin.
  • From 2000 to 2014 nearly half a million persons in the United States have died from drug overdoses.
  • The rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (opioid pain relievers and heroin).

The 2013-2014 increase was geographically pervasive. In 2014, the five states with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths were:

  • West Virginia (35.5 deaths per 100,000)
  • New Mexico (27.3)
  • New Hampshire (26.2)
  • Kentucky (24.7)
  • Ohio (24.6).

States with statistically significant increases in the rate of drug overdose deaths from 2013 to 2014 included Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

For more analysis of the data, see Kim Krisberg’s story at The Pump Handle.

Obesity: A Smoking Gun?

Is obesity a contributing factor to the opioid epidemic? That’s certainly an avenue worth further investigation. Recent research shows more evidence of the increase in prescription drug use and study authors suggest an obesity connection.

In November, researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health issued a report which was published in in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association: Trends in Prescription Drug Use Among Adults in the United States From 1999-2012

NPR’s Alison Kodjak reports on the study in Americans Are Using More Prescription Drugs; Is Obesity To Blame?

Two of the key findings:

  • 59% of adults used a prescription drug in a 30-day period, up from 50% a decade earlier.
  • The share of people taking more than five prescription drugs in a month doubled to 15%.

Lead author Elizabeth Kantor said that:

” … the rise in prescription drug use may have to do with the rise in obesity, since many of the most widely prescribed drugs treat obesity-related conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. The study found, for example, that the share of people using cholesterol-lowering agents, mostly statins, jumped from 7% to 17%.”

 

Related opioid reading matter:

Halloween special: Scariest posts from our archives

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Apparently, it’s human nature to love being scared. It’s certainly proven true with blog posts — some of the most popular and highly visited entries from the archives are the ones that set your teeth on edge. Truth is usually scarier than fiction. We’ve dusted them off and present them to you.

In the spirit of Halloween, here are some of our scariest and most popular posts from the “it could have been worse” genre:

The truly terrifying posts

The above posts run the gamut but they have one thing in common: they mainly had happy endings. The really terrifying posts – the ones that should keep us all awake at nights – are ones that end badly. Here are some frequently visited posts in the “it shouldn’t have happened but it did” category. Sadly, this list is hardly exhaustive in the horror genre. Too many workers leave for work in the morning and don’t come home again at night:

Blankenship on trial: Potentially precedent setting case re CEO criminal responsibility

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

A day that many in West Virginia have waited for has come to pass: Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Mining, is on trial. Proceedings began on October 1 in Charleston Federal Court and are in the jury selection phase.

Get your popcorn ready for what promises to be a very interesting and potentially precedent setting case. Holding a CEO criminally responsible for charges related to work safety violations is extremely rare. Observers are interested particularly in light of the Justice Department’s new emphasis and directive on prioritizing accountability and prosecution of individuals rather than just corporations. And no one is watching the proceedings with more interest than the families of the 29 miners who lost their lives.

The Charleston Gazette is following the trial closely with Don Blankenship on Trial, a special reporting section that includes day-by-day trial coverage updates and stories, timelines, a list of legal documents, historical articles, videos, maps and more. It also includes photos and profiles of the deceased.

Coverage also includes links to podcasts by West Virginia Public Broadcasting. WVPB has also been reporting on the case, offering an extensive background and podcasts of the trial events. You can find the latest podcast on the link above, or find a roster of the daily podcasts here or at the WVPB site’s dedicated Blankenship Trial page, where other reportage is also available.

The 16 minute Episode One is well worth a listen. WVPB’s Ashton Marra interviews
Howard Birkus, investigative reporter for NPR on coal mining and work safety, and Mike Hissam, Partner of Bailey & Glasser law firm. They set the stage for the trial and talk about its precedent-setting nature. Birkus says that it is “”extraordinarily rare to hold a CEO responsible for criminal or civil violations at their companies” noting that prosecutors need a paper trail, electronic trail or inside people who will testify. Hissom talk about how this case is on the leading edge of the Obama Justice Department’s new guidelines on criminally prosecuting individuals rather than just fining a corporation. They discuss how CEOs are often insulated from decision-making, but that Blankenship is unique and legendary in his micro-managing practices.

For background on the Justice Department’s new focus on criminal prosecutions, see the New York Times: Justice Department Sets Sights on Wall Street Executives. Matt Apuzzo and Ben Protess report on new rules, issued in a memo to federal prosecutors nationwide:

“Though limited in reach, the memo could erase some barriers to prosecuting corporate employees and inject new life into these high-profile investigations. The Justice Department often targets companies themselves and turns its eyes toward individuals only after negotiating a corporate settlement. In many cases, that means the offending employees go unpunished.

The memo, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times, tells civil and criminal investigators to focus on individual employees from the beginning. In settlement negotiations, companies will not be able to obtain credit for cooperating with the government unless they identify employees and turn over evidence against them, “regardless of their position, status or seniority.” Credit for cooperation can save companies billions of dollars in fines and mean the difference between a civil settlement and a criminal charge.”

For background on the case, How we got here offers a history of the case.

The reporting traces Blankenship’s rise to power in the coal mining industry and his influence in the state’s politics on through to the April 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion that claimed the lives of 29 miners. Several investigations revealed ” … a pattern of violations by Massey of key safety standards, including proper mine ventilation, control of the buildup of explosive dust, and maintenance of equipment to prevent sparks that could set off a blast.” To date, four criminal convictions have occurred. Then in November of last year:

“… a federal grand jury meeting in Charleston indicted Blankenship, charging him with four criminal counts. A superseding indictment was later filed that combined two of the counts. Blankenship faces charges that he conspired to violate federal mine safety standards and to hide those violations from government inspectors and that he lied to federal securities regulators about Massey’s safety practices to try to stop the company’s stock prices from plummeting after the disaster.”

More resopurces
See our prior stories on Don Blankenship here

Follow Ken Ward on Twitter

Follow other reporting and commentary on twitter at #Blankenship