Don Blankenship, a former CEO of Massey Energy, was recently found guilty of conspiring to violate mine safety standards while avoiding a conviction on more serious charges. The charges are related to the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion that happened in West Virginia in 2010. 29 miners were killed in that explosion. It was the deadliest mining accident in more than 40 years.
It is rare for business executives to face criminal charges for workplace accidents even when they cause death. In this instance, there was evidence to support charges that Don Blankenship conspired to falsify dust samples. This subversion of mine safety laws helped create the circumstances that led to the deadly explosion.
In today’s business world, it can seem as though employers hold all of the power. Very little seems to be holding them back from taking whatever actions they deem necessary to maximize profits. In this instance, however, an executive is facing the possibility of up to a year in jail for business decisions that put profits ahead of worker safety.
The charges he was found guilty of are misdemeanor charges. He was found not guilty of more serious charges of securities fraud and making false statements. The results of this case, while disappointing to some, were considered positive by others who saw a guilty verdict, even on lesser charges, as a statement of accountability that they hope resonates within the West Virginia mining community. Hopefully mining companies and other employers will take note of this verdict and realize they may be held accountable for risking their employee’s safety.