Maple Eagle in hot water following impact inspection blitz

US Mine Safety and Health issued nearly 300 citations during its October and November impact inspections, with three dozen alone going to a single operations in Fayette County, West Virginia.

Donna Schmidt

Over the month of October, inspectors handed out 120 citations and 10 orders to six coal mines and three metal/nonmetal operations; MSHA said that its blitz was curtailed during part of the month because of the government shutdown.

In November, the agency issued 174 citations, 11 orders and two safeguards, for a total of 294 for citations and 21 orders for both periods.

MSHA spotlighted problems during its blitz at Maple Creek Coal’s Maple Eagle No. 1 operation in southern West Virginia, which investigators visited November 21.

Following the impact inspection, the mine’s eighth, it received 36 citations and six orders.

“During the inspection, enforcement personnel observed a 20-foot crack in the mine roof at a belt feeder where miners regularly travel,” officials noted.

“Inspectors also found an area of loose roof strata 60ft long and up to 8ft wide where miners were at risk of being struck by falling rock.”

MSHA issued a 104(d)(1) withdrawal order to the operator for violations to its approved roof control plan and also for failing to install needed roof supports.

It also cited Maple Creek Coal for a 24ft-long loose coal rib that was cracked and separating from the solid wall.

The mine also was handed down three more 104(d)(1) withdrawal orders for ventilation plan violations.

“The operator did not properly construct or complete several overcasts (enclosed airways used to maintain ventilation) in several entries,” MSHA said.

“The operator also failed to maintain intake airways clear of combustible materials, and had let water accumulate in one of the entries.

“The mine operator was cited for failing to identify and correct in its preshift inspection hazards that were obvious, extensive and had existed for several shifts.”

Additionally, MSHA cited the operation for providing advance notice of inspectors’ presence on-site.

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 687 impact inspections and issued 11,427 citations, 1,052 orders and 48 safeguards.