MSHA Issues 306 Citations in April Impact Inspections

Coal mines were issued 254 citations, 19 orders, and one safeguard, and metal/nonmetal operations were issued 52 citations and nine orders.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration recently announced that federal inspectors issued 335 citations, orders, and safeguards during special impact inspections conducted at eight coal mines and four metal/nonmetal mines last month. The coal mines were issued 254 citations, 19 orders, and one safeguard, while the metal/nonmetal operations were issued 52 citations and nine orders.

These inspections, which began in force in April 2010 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; 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.

As an example from last month's impact inspections, on April 17, MSHA personnel visited Rebco Coal Inc.'s Valley Mine No. 1 in Claiborne County, Tenn., during the production shift. They secured the communications systems to prevent advance notification of the inspection and traveled the primary escapeway to inspect all four conveyor belts to the mechanized mining unit. MSHA issued 81 enforcement actions as a result of the inspection, including 74 citations, four failure-to-abate orders for previously issued citations, one unwarrantable failure citation, and two unwarrantable failure orders.

The inspection party cited a broad spectrum of violations covering ventilation, accumulations of combustible materials, electrical equipment, trailing cables, and fire protection. During previous inspections at the mine, equipment had been tagged out of service; however, when the operator resumed production a week prior to the impact inspection, the equipment had not been repaired.

MSHA found numerous defects on the mechanized mining unit's roof bolter, including accumulations of combustible materials. An unwarrantable failure order was issued for the operator's failure to conduct an adequate electrical examination on the continuous miner to ensure that the equipment is maintained in a safe operating condition. Citations were issued for 18 defects of the continuous miner that affect the permissibility of the machine, and additional citations were issued for failing to maintain the lighting system on the remote-controlled machine, accumulations on the continuous miner, failing to install a methane-sensing device as close to the working face as practical, and failing to adequately insulate the trailing cable for the miner. The operator's failure to adequately examine the equipment and maintain it in a safe and permissible condition posed a high degree of danger to the miners.

"This unexpected inspection found several safety violations that placed miners at serious risk, a failure by the mine operator to conduct basic find and fix examinations and a disregard for violations previously cited by MSHA," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "As evidenced by the recent inspection blitz, MSHA will not hesitate to take action to protect workers at risk."

Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 443 impact inspections at coal and metal/nonmetal mines. These inspections have resulted in 7,948 citations, 785 orders, and 29 safeguards for a total of 8,762 issuances.

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