Latest MSHA impact inspections yield more coal mine citations

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, as part of a continuing crackdown on mine safety nationwide, said May 31 that federal inspectors issued 335 citations, orders and safeguards during special impact inspections conducted at eight coal mines and four metal/nonmetal mines in April.

The coal mines were issued 254 citations, 19 orders and one safeguard, while the metal/nonmetal operations were issued 52 citations and nine orders. These inspections, which began in force in April 2010 following the fatal explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch deep mine in southern West Virginia, involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns.

As an example of the April impact inspections, on April 17, MSHA personnel visited Rebco Coal Inc.‘s Valley Mine No. 1 in Claiborne County, Tenn., during the production shift. They secured the communications systems to prevent advance notification of the inspection by aboveground mine personnel and traveled the primary escapeway to inspect all four conveyor belts to the mechanized mining unit. MSHA said it issued 81 enforcement actions as a result of the inspection, including 74 citations, four failure-to-abate orders for previously issued citations, one unwarrantable failure citation and two unwarrantable failure orders.

MSHA said it found numerous defects on the mechanized mining unit’s roof bolter, including accumulations of combustible materials. An unwarrantable failure order was issued for the operator’s failure to conduct an adequate electrical examination on the continuous miner to ensure that the equipment is maintained in a safe operating condition.

Citations were issued for 18 defects of the continuous miner that affect the permissibility of the machine, and additional citations were issued for failing to maintain the lighting system on the remote-controlled machine, accumulations on the continuous miner, failing to install a methane-sensing device as close to the working face as practical and failing to adequately insulate the trailing cable for the miner. The operator’s failure to adequately examine the equipment and maintain it in a safe and permissible condition posed a high degree of danger to the miners, MSHA added.

“This unexpected inspection found several safety violations that placed miners at serious risk, a failure by the mine operator to conduct basic find and fix examinations, and a disregard for violations previously cited by MSHA,” said Joseph Main, the head of MSHA. “As evidenced by the recent inspection blitz, MSHA will not hesitate to take action to protect workers at risk.”

As another example, on April 24, MSHA personnel visited Argus Energy WV LLC‘s Deep Mine No. 8 in Wayne County, W.Va. – the second impact inspection at this mine. The mine’s communication system was secured to prevent advance notice of the inspection. The inspection party issued 87 104(a) citations, one unwarrantable failure 104(d) citation and eight unwarrantable failure 104(d) orders for alleged violations of 51 sections of MSHA regulations.

Deep Mine No. 8 was selected for an April inspection due to its frequent number of accidents and repeated noncompliance with mandatory safety and health standards. Since April 2011, there have been 23 separate accidents, 12 having occurred since this January. The operator has been issued a total of 386 citations and 22 orders, 11 of which were unwarrantable failure orders, said MSHA.

Among the other coal mines inspected in April were the Cumberland longwall mine of Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR), the Blacksville No. 2 longwall mine of CONSOL Energy (NYSE: CNX) and the Justice No. 1 mine of Alpha, which is a former Massey Energy operation. Notable is that Cumberland and Justice No. 1 got by far the least amount of citations of the coal mines inspected.

Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 443 impact inspections at coal and metal/nonmetal mines. These inspections have resulted in 7,948 citations, 785 orders and 29 safeguards for a total of 8,762 issuances.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.