Inspectors crack down on 'black lung' risk to miners

MINE Safety and Health Administration inspectors issued 150 citations and 10 orders during special impact inspections at 13 coal mines and three metal/non-metal mines in September.

Noel Dyson

The coal mines had previously been cited previously for violations regarding respirable dust-sampling results or methods, inadequate dust control or ventilation plans, on-shift examination violations, or hazard complaints related to respirable dust.

One example was an impact inspection on September 10 at Alpha Natural Resources subsidiary Elk Run Coal’s Roundbottom Powellton Mine in Boone County, West Virginia.

It was due to overexposures and the mine’s otherwise poor compliance history with respirable dust requirements.

Inspectors issued 20 citations and one order during the health-focused inspection.

Each set of mining machinery is required to have a minimum amount of air available to ventilate all working faces, dilute gases and carry coal dust away from workers.

In this mine the operator failed to follow the methane and dust-control portion of an approved ventilation plan and inspectors found many improperly ventilated areas.

In one section containing a continuous mining machine, there was not even enough air movement to turn the blades of an anemometer – an inspector’s air measurement device.

Air quantity in this area was low due to a clogged scrubber filter on the continuous miner, which allowed just 60% of the airflow required.

Additionally, just 27 of the required 41 water sprays were working.

Tests of other sections and working faces also indicated low air quantities.

Inspectors issued citations for a recently mined and roof-bolted face that did not have the mining air quantities specified in the operator’s approved ventilation plan.

Coal accumulations also existed in active areas for distances of up to 45 feet in length and 24 inches in depth.

The mine’s tracking system did not properly track individuals on working sections.

Inspectors also found an undersized coal support pillar and reflectors required to mark roof conditions were not installed.

Those conditions had not been identified during required operator examinations.

MSHA issued citations for the violations.

“Inadequate ventilation, insufficient air quantities and improperly maintained dust controls expose miners to the risk of explosions and black lung,” US Department of Labor assistant secretary for mine safety and health Joe Main said.

Another example was from an impact inspection conducted at Dana Mining’s Arco No.1 mine in Marion County, West Virginia.

Inspectors issued one unwarrantable failure order for not complying with the approved ventilation plan.

This was the mine’s first impact inspection.

Inspectors examined the active section where the continuous miner was operating and discovered the operator illegally mining coal with the 88 foot long ventilation curtain rolled up to the roof.

The mine was issued an unwarrantable failure order because no ventilating current was being provided to the face where the continuous miner was working.

The operator’s failure to follow the approved ventilation plan potentially exposed miners to risks of explosion and black lung.

These compliance failures stopped the ventilation system from removing respirable dust and gases from the working environment.

All production personnel were re-educated on the requirements of the approved ventilation plan.

Main said he had personally called for the ventilation push.

“As part of our overall strategy to improve compliance in the nation’s mines, and because of the egregious nature of some of the coal dust-related violations our inspectors have encountered during past impact inspections, I’ve instructed our enforcement personnel to give special consideration to mines with respirable dust or ventilation and dust-control plan compliance concerns,” he said.

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