MSHA Issues 166 Citations in February Impact Inspections

Special impact inspections, which began last April following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns.

MSHA recently announced that federal inspectors issued 166 citations and orders during special impact inspections conducted at seven coal mines and one dimension stone quarry last month. The seven coal mines were issued 127 citations and four orders; the quarry operation was issued 27 citations and eight orders.

Special impact inspections, which began last April following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, involve 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 hazard 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.

"MSHA has been conducting these targeted inspections for nearly a year and, while some operators have been responsive and showed a willingness to change, others continue to commit the same serious violations," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "We are using all the enforcement tools at our disposal, but Congress has the capability to enhance those tools."

On Feb. 18, 2011, an inspection party arrived during the evening shift at D & C Mining Corp. in Harlan County, Ky. The inspectors captured and monitored the phones to prevent advance notification of their arrival and, as a result of the inspection, issued 17 citations and one order. Two-thirds of those issuances were designated as significant and substantial violations. This visit marked the fourth impact inspection conducted at this mine since April 2010.

A 104(b) order, which closed an entire section of the mine, was issued because the mine operator failed to provide a refuge alternative for miners on the active working section to use in the event of a mine fire, explosion, or other emergency. D & C Mining also was cited for an inoperable emergency communications system in the primary escapeway, as well as for a number of violations that presented a fire or explosion risk, including failure to comply with the dust controls portion of its ventilation plan, electrical violations such as inadequate electrical exams, and failure to follow its approved plan to prevent smoking articles from entering the mine.

In some cases, follow-ups to impact inspections have shown significant compliance improvements, noted MSHA. For example, in September 2010, MSHA conducted an impact inspection at the Fulkroad Quarry, a limestone quarry in Juniata County, Pa. MSHA issued 35 citations and one imminent danger order. During the next regular inspection in January 2011, MSHA issued just four citations, an 89 percent decrease.

Other mines have not been as responsive in fixing problems. At Left Fork Mining Co. Inc.'s Straight Creek No. 1, a coal mine in Bell County, Ky., MSHA found serious violations during both regular inspections and two impact inspections conducted in April and September 2010. On Nov. 19, Straight Creek received a notice that it had a potential pattern of violations.

Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 228 impact inspections. These inspections have resulted in 4,268 citations, 396 orders, and 13 safeguards.

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