In its October impact inspections at US operations, the agency reported it issued 226 citations and orders to eight coal operations and three metal/nonmetal mines.
The coal targets received 145 citations and 18 orders, while 51 citations and 12 orders went to metal/nonmetal operations.
One of the targeted mines was Bledsoe Coal’s Abner Branch Rider mine in Leslie County, Kentucky, where inspectors arrived for a surprise inspection October 31.
In April, Abner Branch was one of two mines to ever be placed on a pattern of violations by MSHA as a result of its repeated significant and substantial violations of mandatory health and safety standards.
The October 31 impact review revealed loose, unsupported drawrock and loose coal ribs at the mine, leading MSHA to issue two withdrawal orders for inadequate roof and rib control.
Withdrawal orders were also issued for combustible material accumulations as well as the operator’s failure to conduct a pre-shift examination of the active section. This resulted in electrical equipment and cables left energized near roof control and ventilation hazards.
In all, the operator was issued with five withdrawal orders and two citations.
The withdrawal orders issued based on the most recent inspection, which requires all crews to be withdrawn from an affected area until each violation has been abated, bring the mine’s total number of withdrawal orders received since April to 34.
“The conditions at the Abner Branch Rider Mine underscore the importance of adequate pre-shift examinations, which require hazards to be found and fixed to prevent miners from being harmed,” assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health Joseph Main said.
“There is no excuse for miners to be exposed to these conditions when a pre-shift inspection would have identified the hazards. I’m especially troubled that these conditions exist at a mine already on a pattern of violations.”
Another mine targeted last month was Viper Coal’s Mine No. 7 in Pike County, Kentucky, which MSHA visited October 13. Eight unwarrantable failure orders and 12 citations were issued during that evaluation.
“One of the orders was issued for mining coal in excess of the 20 foot maximum cut depth stipulated in the operator’s approved roof control plan,” officials said.
“Additionally, drawrock was present throughout the working section and exposed miners to roof falls that could cause serious injury or death.”
Inspectors issued unwarrantable failure orders to the operator for its failure to conduct an on-shift examination that would have ensured compliance with the respirable dust control parameters. Also, ventilation deficiencies did not comply with the approved ventilation plan and there were inadequate on-shift/preshift examinations of the belt lines, which led to the buildup of combustible material.
“At the time of the inspection, the mine was using blowing ventilation, when the approved ventilation plan called for exhausting ventilation,” MSHA said.
“This disregard for the approved plan resulted in a drastic reduction in airflow, well below the minimum required by law. Furthermore, the operator failed to maintain water sprays on the continuous mining machine to suppress dust.”
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 merit increased attention and enforcement by the agency due to a 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.
Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 358 impact inspections, which have resulted in 6,383 citations, 614 orders and 22 safeguards.