Ross Safety Recommendations Kept Confidential at Massey

Nov 4, 2015

Jurors heard emotional testimony from former Massey Energy safety official Bill Ross who broke down on the stand Wednesday morning as he discussed his 2009 recommendations to improve safety at the mining company.

Don Blankenship leaving the Charleston federal courthouse in October.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Ross began his second day of testimony Wednesday in the trial of ex-Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

After sharing many concerns over safety practices and training in the Massey mine system during a June 2009 meeting with a company attorney and member of the Board of Directors, Ross testified Massey COO Chris Adkins directed him to write out recommendations Ross thought could fix the problems he saw.

In an email soon after, Ross wrote he was "thrilled about a new Massey Energy Company."

"This company will be pleased with the results and I'll be relieved," he wrote in the July 2009 email to Massey attorney Stephanie Ojeda. 

Ross broke down on the stand when he was asked how he felt about sharing those recommendations.

"I thought good things were going to happen," Ross said between deep breaths and long pauses. 

"I thought they would take steps to change so I was happy. It would be better for the miners and the company."

Ross had recommended a re-emphasis on training inexperienced mine managers, increasing staffing levels, a change in company attitude toward the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, and beefing up safety procedures to help reduce the number of violations Massey was receiving. 

But some 9 months after his recommendations were shared, Massey's Upper Big Branch mine exploded, killing 29 men.

"Were you aware if your concerns were ever shared with Massey's Board of Directors? With investors? With the public at large?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby questioned Ross. 

"No one ever talked to me about any of these things," Ross said.

Ross's recommendations were marked "confidential- attorney client privilege," presumably by Ojeda, who Ross sent his recommendations to. 

Ross testified he did not know why his concerns or recommendations were kept secret. 

"I thought it would be shared with everyone at Massey so we could get a handle on this," he testified.