No light for Tunnel Ridge in October inspections

FEDERAL officials took on nine coal mines in October under its impact inspection push, with the Tunnel Ridge operation in West Virginia receiving two targeted inspections that left it with more than 30 citations and four orders.

Donna Schmidt

The US Mine Safety and Health Administration said 210 citations and 14 orders were issued by its inspectors in October. These were handed out at nine coal operations as well as five metal/non-metal mines.

In September, MSHA issued 150 citations and 10 orders at 13 coal mines and three-metal/non-metal complexes across the nation.

Agency officials said the surprise inspections at Tunnel Ridge, a relatively new operation in Ohio county, West Virginia, occurred on October 9 and 23. The evaluations were the fourth and fifth for the Alliance Resources complex since impact inspections began in 2010.

“During the first inspection, enforcement personnel traveled all the conveyer belts and cited the operator six times for accumulations of combustible materials,” federal officials said, noting they issued 24 citations and two orders during the visit.

“Inspectors found fresh coal spillage up to three feet deep, loose coal and coal dust, and float coal dust along long distances of beltlines, around the belt structure and bottom rollers, and on the mine floor.”

MSHA also noted misaligned belts and belt conveyor flights at the operation, as well as missing bottom rollers and damaged belt conveyor components. A walkway within two feet of an energized belt was obstructed with loose rock, coal and sloughage, with an irregular and slick mine floor beneath.

The operator failed to record a number of hazardous conditions in its pre-shift/on-shift record book, the agency said.

Because inspectors wished to examine Tunnel Ridge while all of its mechanized mining units were operating, inspectors returned two weeks later and focused on health compliance. During that evaluation seven citations and two orders were handed down.

“The mine operator was cited four times for failure to maintain the dust collection systems in permissible condition on four different roof bolting machines,” officials said of the second visit.

“Violations included clean side filters packed with drill dust, a damaged dust filter, loose gaskets on the dust box door and holes in the suction hose. The operator also failed to comply with the approved ventilation plan.”

Inspectors also noted the continuous miner produced no water or water pressure during an official test conducted while the unit was loading coal.

As a result of the second impact inspection, Tunnel Ridge was issued an unwarrantable failure order for an accumulation of dry, loose coal and coal dust measuring 3-28 inches along areas of 585 feet in multiple entries.

A section of the mine was shut down for more than 25 hours as a result of the finding, which was not noted in a pre-shift exam.

“Workplace examinations are a vital part of keeping mines safe and these inspections exposed alarming inadequacies in those exams,” assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health Joseph Main said.

“MSHA issued new health and safety rules in August requiring mine operators to conduct more thorough examinations to find and fix hazards to prevent this very situation. Mine operators cannot continue to put miners at risk by letting hazardous conditions languish until MSHA cites them.”

The agency’s special impact inspections began in April 2010 following an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia in which 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 523 impact inspections, which have resulted in 9160 citations, 889 orders and 38 safeguards.

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