Impact inspections hit hard

FEDERAL inspectors pushed their powers to order the closure of mines as part of a March inspection blitz that also left nine coal operations with violations notices.
Impact inspections hit hard Impact inspections hit hard Impact inspections hit hard Impact inspections hit hard Impact inspections hit hard

MSHA assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health Joseph Main. Courtesy MSHA.

Donna Schmidt

During March, US Mine Safety and Health Administration staff issued 249 violations after special impact inspections conducted at nine coal mines and two metal/nonmetal mines.

The coal operations were issued 187 citations, 25 orders and two safeguards while the metal/nonmetal mines received 35 citations.

The figures are an improvement on February though. Back then MSHA inspectors handed out 253 citations and orders at 15 coal mines and two metal/nonmetal operations.

Of those, coal mines were given 235 of the citations and orders, while metal/nonmetal operations received 23 citations and six orders.

In one of the agency’s March impact inspections, MSHA officials targeted Redhawk Mining’s No. 1 operation in Floyd County, Kentucky. They arrived the evening of March 13 and continued their review past midnight into March 14.

Federal inspectors examined four conveyor belt lines on four mechanized mining units during the inspection. 

“This mine has a history of liberating methane and had been put on notice by MSHA that greater efforts to comply with the approved ventilation plan were needed,” MSHA said.

“Inspectors found that required air quantities in idle and active coal faces, as approved in the mine’s ventilation plan, were not being maintained, and the type and number of water sprays for respirable dust control were not in compliance.”

Inspectors, the agency said, found that the operator had failed to use a line curtain underground and that nine of 27 water sprays it had installed were the wrong type. One of the sprays was found to be plugged and another was not properly oriented. 

Officials also found that that the mine’s examiners did not conduct adequate on-shift examinations during the production shift.

Many “obvious and extensive hazards” were recorded on the active MMUs it inspected, including combustible material accumulations, not maintaining the approved dust control parameters and not complying with the approved ventilation plan.

As a result of its findings, MSHA shut down the operation for 72 hours.

“These deficiencies appear to have existed for an extended period,” the agency said, adding that it ordered all mine examiners be trained on proper examinations and the entire workforce trained on the mine’s ventilation plan. 

Assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health Joseph Main said the closure order was still one of the most effective tools inspectors had to bring about compliance, even during impact inspections.

“We will not hesitate to use these and other enforcement tools to protect the nation’s miners,” he said.

Another mine hit in the impact inspection push was Perry County Coal’s E3-1 mine in Perry County, Kentucky, which was visited during the second shift on March 13.

The operation was already on a five-day spot inspection for methane liberation in excess of 1 million cubic feet per 24 hours. 

Inspectors traveled underground in two different directions along belt conveyors to each of two producing MMUs to conduct their inspections. As a result of their review MSHA issued 38 citations and 16 unwarrantable failure orders, including combustible materials accumulations on 14 occasions.

“Accumulations of combustible materials were extensive in all mine areas where inspectors traveled and included both MMUs, multiple belt conveyors, escapeways, track entries, a return aircourse and equipment,” MSHA said.

At one MMU, MSHA revealed, there were accumulations in the form of loose coal, coal dust and float coal dust that were dry to the touch and ranged in depth from paper thin to three feet from the section loading point to the face area (360 feet). The mine floor and ribs in all areas of the section also had accumulations.

“No effort had been made to control the dust, apply rock dust or remove the accumulations,” officials say in their report.

“It was evident that combustible materials had been allowed to accumulate for several shifts.”   

 

Federal inspectors issued additional citations and orders to the mine for its failure to comply with the approved roof control plan as well as to maintain belt rollers and conveyor belts, firefighting equipment and deluge water sprays and permissible electric face equipment.

It was also cited for inadequate examinations, as the hazards discovered had “clearly had existed for some time with no effort taken to correct them”, inspectors said.

 

The agency’s special impact inspections began in force in April 2010 following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine where 29 workers were killed.

The push involved mines that warranted increased attention and enforcement by the agency due to a poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns.

These included high numbers of violations or closure orders; indications of operator tactics, such as advance notification of inspections that prevented 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.

Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 431 impact inspections, which have resulted in 7,642 citations, 757 orders and 28 safeguards for a total of 8,427 issuances.

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