HARLAN (AP) — The Office of Mine Safety and Licensing is asking that an eastern Kentucky miner who reported safety violations be put on probation because he worked in unsafe conditions.
Mackie Bailey faces a hearing in February with the state Mine Safety Review Committee, which could put his mining certificate on probation for a year.
Bailey’s attorney, Tony Oppegard, told the Lexington Herald-Leader (http://bit.ly/UOwuJk ) that state officials are “trying to punish the whistle-blower.” He says the action wouldn’t stop Bailey from being able to work but could hurt him if another complaint was filed.
The action against Bailey was brought by the state’s Office of Mine Safety and Licensing.
Dick Brown, a spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, which includes the mine licensing office, said in a statement Tuesday “that there is much more to this than the (newspaper’s) story indicates, and the inferences by Mr. Oppegard should be read with that in mind.”
“We have never, ever put mining companies above the safety of miners,” the statement said. It said more about the case would come to light as it moves through the Mine Safety Review Commission.
Bailey says he reported unsafe conditions at the Harlan County mine after a co-worker died in June 2011. The company, Manalapan Mining, and three supervisors have pleaded guilty to violating federal safety laws.
Bailey said he noticed safety problems at the mine right after he started working there in early 2011, but didn’t report them at first for fear of losing his job.
“They remind you every day there’s a hundred men standing in line for your job,” Bailey said.
Oppegard said it’s not uncommon for miners to trade safety for a paycheck.
“Your choice is either refuse and get fired or do something you know is dangerous,” Oppegard said.
While working at the mine, Bailey operated a machine that drove bolts into the mine’s roof to keep it from falling. He says a temporary bar is supposed to hold up the roof while bolts are implanted, but that didn’t always happen— a violation of state and federal laws.
“I’ve never seen anything so dangerous in my life,” Bailey said.
Bailey said he told supervisors about a problem area of the mine where the support bars wouldn’t reach the roof, but was told to keep working anyway. He said by late June he’d had enough and refused to bolt a section of the roof without the proper safety mechanisms. He said a foreman threatened to fire him, but he was allowed to work the rest of his shift doing other duties.
The next day, he arrived at work to find out the mine had been shut down because another worker — David Partin, 49, of Pineville — had been killed. A federal investigation found that Partin died when a section of rock fell on him.
Bailey says he called Oppegard that day, and later spoke to state mine safety accident investigator Tracy Stumbo.
The problems Bailey told them about were verified and federal authorities prosecuted the case, which led to the guilty pleas. Oppegard says it is unlikely the safety violations would have been found without Bailey’s help.
However, the state has charged that he worked under a roof that was unsupported.
“I don’t see the justice in it,” Bailey said.