Both coal and metal/nonmetal mines designated by federal officials as having safety or health issues were targets of the aggressive and non-traditional inspection review that took place between April and August.
In total, 2660 violations were issued to 111 operations, with 45% of the violations classified as significant and substantial (S&S).
"We have learned a lot of hard lessons since the explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine more than five months ago," MSHA assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health Joseph Main said.
"While a number of mine operators receiving impact inspections have taken positive steps to clean up their act, some have refused to take seriously their responsibility to protect their workers and change their ways.
“We can't be at every mine every day, but when we have reason to believe that a particular mine operator is putting miners' lives at risk, we will not sit back and wait for a disaster to happen."
The agency said it employed numerous tactics to catch operators off-guard, such as using unmarked government vehicles, seizing mine phones to prevent surface-to-underground communications, and late afternoon or evening minesite arrivals.
In addition to the violations, MSHA inspectors issued almost 200 withdrawal orders stemming from unwarrantable failures under federal regulatory outlines, as well as eight 107(a) withdrawal orders due to imminent dangers.
“Some mine operations actually fared worse during follow-up inspections,” Main noted.
“For example, CAM Mining's Mine No. 28 in Pike County, Kentucky, received 42 citations and orders, with a significant and substantial rate of nearly 31 per cent during its April inspection. In a July inspection, the operator received 73 citations and orders, with an S&S rate of nearly 44 per cent.”
Another case was Wilcoal Mining's Tri-State One operation in Claiborne County, Tennessee.
The mine received 33 citations and orders, with an S&S rate of almost 65% in April, and was cited 38 more times with an S&S rate of almost 65% during the subsequent inspection in July.
“As a result of 11 orders issued by MSHA, the mine was shut down,” the agency said.
MSHA launched the new inspection program to continue to reform its admittedly broken “pattern of violations” program, which was designed to identify persistent safety violators and subject those operations to enhanced enforcement.
The agency announced it would rewrite the regulations this past spring, when “it became clear that the program is not meeting its intended purpose”
The new system was put into place to catch problems that a functioning pattern of violations system would address.
During the impact inspection program, investigators looked at mines selected for specific criteria, including high violation of closure order numbers; indications of operator tactics including advance inspection notification; frequent hazardous complaints or hotline calls; inadequate workplace exams; high accident, injury or illness levels; fatalities and adverse conditions such as increased methane liberation, faulty roof conditions and inadequate ventilation.
"Clearly, there are still too many mine operators who have not learned the lessons of Upper Big Branch and continue to put miners' lives at risk," Main said.
"They don't yet understand the value of safety in our nation's mines. That's got to change. Our mission is to protect miners, and protect them we must."
For a full list of the inspected mines, check out: