Massey owned Upper Big Branch when a massive explosion ripped through its underground corridors in 2010, killing 29 men in the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in 40 years.
The blast was preventable: Four investigations found that worn and broken cutting equipment created a spark that ignited accumulations of coal dust and methane gas. Broken and clogged water sprayers allowed what should have been a minor flare-up to become an inferno.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said the root cause was Massey's "systematic, intentional and aggressive efforts" to conceal life-threatening problems. Managers even maintained two sets of pre-shift inspection books - an accurate one for themselves, and a sanitized one for regulators.
MSHA said miners who dared question hazards were threatened with firing.
Crutchfield says Alpha has invested tens of thousands of hours in replacing a culture of fear with one of respect. Since the Massey buyout in June 2011, employees have turned in more than 1 million anonymous cards to report concerns.
"When they see you listen to that voice, you begin to see a culture where the fear is erased," he said. "It's about trust. We want people to believe and know they are empowered to make the call, and if it's unsafe, they'll do that.
"It's easy to say that," Crutchfield said, "and it's another thing to actually build a culture."
MSHA chief Joe Main says the numbers tell the story: From 2007 through 2009, MSHA had 14 Massey mines listed as potential pattern violators, a label assigned to mines singled out for higher scrutiny because of chronic safety problems.
In 2010, four Massey mines made the list. By 2011, only one Massey operation was on the list, and last year, none met the criteria.
Alpha runs 55 mines and 18 preparation plants in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. It still has problems, Main said, with three fatalities since the Massey takeover.
However, "I think there's a cultural shift that we're beginning to see take shape with those numbers," he said. "There's a lot of trends that are showing that mine safety is going in the right direction, and Alpha seems to be a part of that."
In a real mine, instructors can't knowingly create a hazard to test their workers' ability to recognize and fix it. Here, they can create a roof fall, tear down a ventilation curtain or place a dummy under a shuttle car.
They will, Stapleton says, push miners to their emotional and physical limits - but flip on the lights if someone panics.
The continuing criminal probe of Upper Big Branch has put two former mine officials behind bars, and a third awaits sentencing. Prosecutors appear to be moving up the ladder toward former CEO Don Blankenship but won't comment on either their targets or timeline.
The settlement spared Alpha criminal prosecution and wiped out 370 violations related to the disaster but kept individuals on the hook. Alpha agreed to pay $35 million in fines and invest $18 million in safety training.
"We wanted to not just have the company write a check to the government and go on down the road," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby, "but to use it as a constructive opportunity to really innovate in the area of mine safety."
The mine lab, he said, is "exactly the sort of thing we were hoping to accomplish."