MSHA Conducts Surprise Inspections at Three Massey-Owned Mines

The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration announced that MSHA inspectors responded to three separate anonymous complaints about hazardous conditions at three coal mines owned by Massey Energy Co. Massey owns the Upper Big Branch Mine in Whitesville W. Va., where 29 workers were killed following an April 5 explosion.

Following each investigation, MSHA ordered the withdrawal of miners from designated areas of those mines and issued multiple citations for serious violations at Spartan Mining Co.'s Road Fork #51 Mine in Wyoming County, W.Va.; Inman Energy's Randolph Mine in Boone County, W.Va.; and Independence Coal Co.'s Cook Mine in Boone County, W.Va.

"Each one of these inspections resulting from anonymous complaints reflects a serious disregard for the safety and health of the miners who work at these operations," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Mine operators who disregard mine regulations and the Mine Act put miners at risk and must be held accountable for their behavior, and MSHA will do everything in its power to make sure that miner safety and health is paramount. What's especially troubling is that one of the complaints came in just days after the explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine."

Massey said it disagrees with some of the citations written, and denies that there was a small fire at the Randolph Mine.

However, the company said there were conditions found at the mines that did not meet industry requirements. As the result of the issues found at the Road Fork #51 Mine, one foreman was discharged, one foreman was suspended, (who then quit) and two miner operators were suspended. At the Randolph Mine, six miners were discharged, including the supervisor. At the Cook Mine, a miner operator was discharged. Massey said these actions were taken prior to the release of MSHA’s announcement.

Massey also added that in addition to the disciplinary actions taken, additional training has been conducted and internal unannounced safety inspections have been increased at the mines.

On March 24, 2010, MSHA received an anonymous hazard complaint reporting that Road Fork #51 Mine was running two continuous miners on a single split of air. The complaint also alleged that the operation was mining into the coal face deeper than its approved plan allowed and had experienced several face methane ignitions that were not reported to MSHA. As a result, eight 104(d)(2) withdrawal orders were issued for the mine's failure to maintain the minimum air quantity ventilation requirements, accumulation of combustible materials, and roof control violations.

Also on March 24, 2010, MSHA received an anonymous complaint about hazardous conditions at Randolph Mine just days after a small fire occurred there. Mine inspectors found that the mine operator was not providing adequate ventilation to reduce the risk of explosions and exposure to coal mine dust. Nine 104(d)(2) withdrawal orders were issued for a variety of hazards including inadequate ventilation. Inspectors found that there was no air movement in some sections caused by line curtains (used to control air flow) being rolled up for a distance of 60 feet. There were also inadequate on-shift examinations as well as obvious and extensive accumulation of loose coal up to 20 inches deep.

On April 9, 2010, MSHA received a hazard complaint about Independence Coal Co.'s Cook Mine regarding water in the escapeway. Upon inspection of the mine, six 104(d)(1) orders were issued for taking illegal deep cuts of 30 feet into the coal face when the plan allowed a maximum of 20 feet; blockage of the primary escapeway with water; inadequate pre-shift and on-shift examinations; and excessive widths beyond the roof control plan parameters. MSHA inspectors also found that numerous roof bolts were sheared off and damaged, increasing the risk of hazardous roof falls.

Massey said it takes violations of regulatory requirements and Massey requirements seriously and will hold those that violate such requirements accountable.

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