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Former Walter employees among mine's inspectors

By SCOTT BARANCIK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2003

Late last month, the federal Mine Safety and Health Agency admitted that its oversight of an Alabama coal mine where 13 workers died in a 2001 accident was deficient.

In its 128-page internal review, the agency said inspectors responsible for the mine owned by Jim Walter Resources, a unit of Tampa's Walter Industries, were inexperienced, did not always recognize rule violations and sometimes failed to make sure problems were corrected.

One page of the report was devoted to a curious fact: Seven members of the government's inspection staff were former Jim Walter employees.

Legal? Absolutely. Agency rules require only that an employee work two years at the agency before inspecting a former employer's mine.

Walter Industries spokesmen Kyle Parks said company policy is to keep inspectors at arm's length. Rumors that its coal subsidiary received advance notice of inspections, or that it paid for inspector perks, are untrue, he said. "We don't get special treatment."

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