December 23, 2012—Lexington, Kentucky—The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that a witness in a whistleblower case involving the dangerous practices at a Harlan County mine is being prosecuted by the state of Kentucky for his involvement in activities related to the crimes he reported to the federal authorities.
Mine Employee Blow the Whistle on Dangerous Practices
Mackie Bailey was an employee of the Manalapan mine in 2011, hired as a machine operator to drive bolts into the mine’s roof to keep it from falling. The usual procedure is to place a large bar against the roof of the mine for support while installing bolts to hold it up. However, Bailey soon learned that miners are often exposed to unsupported sections of the mine roof in violation of federal and state law.
At one point in July of 2011, the miners reached a spot with such a high roof pitch that the support bar would not reach it. Bailey reported the problem to supervisors and was told to keep working so that the workers could reach the farther reaches of the mine before inspectors saw the problem and shut the mine down. This practice continued for more than two weeks after the danger was spotted. According to the charges later entered against the mine owners, employees were stationed at the top to call warnings to workers in the mine if inspectors appeared. Bailey was even ordered to move the bolting machine and tell inspectors it was out of service if they wanted to inspect it.
Bailey finally refused to work under the dangerous conditions and was threatened with losing his job. However, attorneys for the mine owners denied that any miner was ever fired for refusing a dangerous job. Inspection by another supervisor resulted in a rescinding of the order.
Tragic Results from Non-Compliance
The next day, a 49-year-old veteran miner, David Partin, was killed when a section of rock fell on him in the area Bailey had refused to bolt. State and federal investigators began an inspection that eventually led to indictments for three supervisors and the mine’s owners. Some of the defendants pled guilty to signing false reports and violating safety regulations. Bailey was ultimately laid off when the mine he transferred to closed.
Charges Against Whistleblowers
The state now threatens to indict Bailey for taking part in the dangerous activities that led to the mine’s closure. The state wants Bailey’s underground miner certification to be placed on probation. The Office of Mine Safety and Licensing has not responded to requests to drop the charges.
Whistleblower laws are designed to protect employees who report dangerous or illegal practices at work. Suing or charging whistleblowers is counterproductive to the intent of the laws passed to allow employees to report these dangers. An employment attorney represents employees who are unfairly punished for seeking changes to make their workplaces safer. In this case, Bailey’s attorney will be arguing that he was protected from prosecution as a whistleblower who caused the state and federal inspectors to become aware of the dangerous mining practices that led to the accident.
Source: The Lexington Herald-Leader, “Kentucky officials seek to punish whistleblowing miner,” Bill Estep, December 20, 2012
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