MSHA's Fight with Massey Energy Continues

The federal agency issued 11 closure orders during a Sept. 28 surprise inspection at a West Virginia coal mine owned by the company. All 11 hazards have been abated.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration issued 11 closure orders during a Sept. 28 surprise inspection of Elk Run Coal Co.'s Seng Creek Powellton Mine in Boone County, W.Va. -- a mine owned by Massey Energy Co., with which MSHA is still battling over the investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion. The federal agency said its inspectors "discovered that the mine was taking illegal cuts into the coal seam, operating without proper ventilation and not completing required air readings, which are needed to assure there is sufficient air flow to prevent mine explosions."

All 11 orders and one citation have been abated through additional training and installation of ventilation controls and roof supports, MSHA reported.

"This week we mark the six-month anniversary of the devastating explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine," said Joseph Main, MSHA's assistant secretary. "Rather than learn from this tragedy, there are mine operators that continue the 'catch me if you can' tactics, ignoring basic mining laws, and placing their workers at great risk of injury, illness, and mine explosions. They know that MSHA cannot be at the mines all the time, and miners pay the ultimate price. While MSHA will use the full measure of the law to deal with those who persist in refusing to follow the safety and health regulations, the results of the Seng Creek inspection only reinforce the need for new legislation to halt these kinds of practices."

An MSHA supervisor and two inspectors conducted the inspection in the middle of the evening shift, according to the agency's news release, which said they found extended cuts into the coal on the No. 1 section. "Although deep cuts can greatly boost productivity, they also can increase float coal dust accumulations underground. Thus, such cuts must first be approved by MSHA," it said. "In addition, many areas of the working section were without adequate ventilation while these excessive cuts were being taken, exposing miners to the risk of explosions and black lung. The mine foreman, who is directly responsible for miners' health and safety and complying with regulatory requirements, admitted he had not been taking air readings during the work shift. Furthermore, he allowed fly pads (backup curtains), which control the ventilation, to be rolled up against the mine roof ,which short circuits the mine ventilation to allow easier access of mining equipment. In one particular area, suspended coal dust was so thick it was difficult to determine the proximity of the massive continuous mining machine."

This mine has been issued 264 citations, orders and safeguards since January 2009, according to the release.

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