In figures released this week, the agency said federal inspectors issued 255 citations and orders at eight coal mines and seven metal/nonmetal operations during the month of April. Coal operations received 125 citations and 36 orders while MNM mines were issued 93 citations and one order.
Those numbers are versus 134 citations, orders and safeguards at eight coal mines and eight metal/nonmetal mines in March, which was comprised of 55 citations, four orders and one safeguard in coal and 69 citations and five orders in the MNM sector.
Compare these figures to February, when MSHA issued 166 citations and orders at seven coal mines and one dimension stone quarry; coal mines made up 127 citations and four orders of the total and the quarry was hit with 27 citations and eight orders.
While the figures were on the rise in April, all still fall below the reported numbers for the month of January: 377 issued citations and orders at 15 operations, including 208 citations and seven orders at coal mines and 148 citations and 14 orders at metal/nonmetal operations.
“MSHA inspectors continue to find and cite serious violations at mines we have targeted during previous impact inspections,” assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health Joseph Main said.
“We will continue to level this enforcement tool until repeat offenders demonstrate they take their responsibilities for the safety and health of miners seriously.”
In one of the more extreme examples to date, MSHA said it issued 20 withdrawal orders and five citations last month to Massey Energy’s Randolph mine in Boone County, West Virginia, operated by subsidiary Inman Energy.
“Eleven of the orders were for serious violations of a ventilation plan that presented a potential risk of fire, explosion and black lung disease,” federal officials noted.
In another impact inspection April 14, inspectors issued 14 104(a) citations and five 104(d)(2) orders at Wilcoal Mining’s Tri-State One mine in Claiborne County, Tennessee.
Two orders and two citations issued were a result of wet combustible material accumulations on two underground belts that extended approximately 650 feet and ranged in depths between four and16 inches.
“Inspectors found violations of inadequate rib and roof support, improperly working parking brakes and emergency stop switches, and noncompliance with the approved ventilation plan,” MSHA said of the review.
“The continuous mining machine was observed mining with the line curtain 24 feet from the scrubber discharge; [t]he plan limits this distance to a maximum of 15 feet. Noncompliance with the approved ventilation plan and the presence of this condition underground at the mine expose miners to respirable coal mine dust, making them vulnerable to black lung disease and methane hazards that could contribute to mine explosions.”
The impact inspection completed at Tri-State One in April was the mine’s fifth in one year. While it received a potential pattern of violations (POV) notice during the last screening, it reduced its rate of significant and substantial violations during the evaluation period and as a result was not placed on POV status.
Also on April 14, inspectors went to Vision Coal’s Mine No. 2 in Letcher County, Kentucky and issued the mine operator 30 citations and seven orders.
“The operator did not follow the approved roof control plan requiring the use of a sightline or other method of directional control to maintain the projected direction of mining in the underground sections of the mine,” MSHA said.
“This practice exposed miners to serious injuries from roof and /or rib falls. The operator also did not follow the alternate borehole pattern drill plan.”
MSHA also cited the mine for failure to correct conditions found by the pre-shift mine examiner, as well as loose coal accumulations along a conveyor belt. Vision Coal had previously been cited 93 times over two years for 30 Code of Federal Regulations 75.400 violations, which covers accumulation of combustible materials.
“If left uncorrected, the condition could have led to a mine fire,” the agency said, adding that the April impact inspection was the second conducted at Vision Coal’s Mine No. 2 in one year.
The agency’s special impact inspections began in force last April 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 259 impact inspections, which have resulted in 4,610 citations, 442 orders and 14 safeguards.