MSHA issues more than 550 violations during September impact inspections

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration announced that federal inspectors issued 499 citations, 61 orders and three safeguards during special impact inspections conducted at 15 coal and 15 metal/nonmetal mine operations last month.

These concentrated inspections, which began in force last April following the explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine, target mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns, including high numbers of violations or closure orders; indications of operator tactics, such as advance notification of inspections that prevent inspectors from observing violations; frequent hazardous complaints or hotline calls; plan compliance issues; inadequate workplace examinations; a high number of accidents, injuries or illnesses; fatalities; and adverse conditions such as increased methane liberation, faulty roof conditions and inadequate ventilation.

During this most recent round of impact inspections, MSHA coal inspectors issued 275 citations, 53 orders and three safeguards, while metal/nonmetal inspectors issued 224 citations and eight orders.

"We are continuing to find serious threats to miners' safety and health," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "While some operators are finally getting the message, others are not," he said, referencing the Sept. 28 impact inspection at Elk Run Coal Co.'s Seng Creek Powellton Mine, in which MSHA issued 11 closure orders when inspectors found the mine operating without proper ventilation. Such practices can lead to mine explosions and black lung disease.

The Sapphire Coal Co., Advantage No.1 Mine in Letcher County, Ky., is an example of a mine where violations were found. On Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, MSHA inspectors conducted a targeted conveyor belt inspection at the mine. After capturing the mine phone, inspectors issued 42 citations, eight orders and one safeguard. Among the violations was an order issued for the misalignment of a conveyor belt. This condition, if uncorrected, could have led to a mine fire. Seven of the orders and seven citations were issued for accumulations of combustible materials which, if left unchecked and in concert with other conditions, could potentially cause a mine fire or explosion.

On Sept. 9, an inspection party arrived during the evening shift at Left Fork Mining Co. Inc.'s Straight Creek #1 Mine in Bell County, Ky. They captured and monitored the phones to ensure that no advance notification was relayed to miners underground. (This mine was cited for notifying mining personnel that MSHA inspectors were on site during a previous impact inspection last April and subsequently received an injunction in federal court.)

Inspectors issued 28 citations and 11 orders for violations of the operator's roof control plan, not maintaining equipment, improper guarding, electrical infractions and permissibility (which protects against mine explosions). Violations also were issued for inadequate examinations, lack of ventilation controls, not following the mine ventilation plan, accumulations of combustible materials and other conditions. During the next regular safety and health inspection at the mine on Oct. 14, MSHA found more violations for accumulations along the conveyer belt, requiring the belt to be shut down and effectively closing the mine to production. The order was terminated after the mine operator cleaned and rock-dusted the conveyor belt. Accumulations of combustible materials and methane expose miners to an increased risk to a potential explosion or mine fire.

"Mine operators are obligated to address all the problems that MSHA inspectors identify, yet some continue to violate standards and place miners at risk," said Main. "We will continue to target them and other operations that ignore fundamental safety and health laws. At the same time, we are beginning to see signs of improvement at some mines, an indication that these impact inspections are making a difference."

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