The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said Oct. 31 that federal inspectors issued 150 citations and 10 orders during special impact inspections conducted at 13 coal mines and three metal/nonmetal mines in the month of September.
These monthly inspections, which began in force in April 2010 following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia, which killed 29 miners, involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to alleged poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns. Upper Big Branch was a Massey Energy mine, with Massey in June 2011 bought by Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR).
“As part of our overall strategy to improve compliance in the nation’s mines, and because of the egregious nature of some of the coal dust-related violations our inspectors have encountered during past impact inspections, I’ve instructed our enforcement personnel to give special consideration to mines with respirable dust or ventilation and dust control plan compliance concerns,” said MSHA head Joseph Main.
All of the coal mines selected in September previously had been cited for violations related to respirable dust sampling results or methods, inadequate dust control or ventilation plans, on-shift examination violations or hazard complaints related to respirable dust. The September impact inspections focused on compliance with the respirable dust standard and with approved ventilation and dust control plans.
As an example, an impact inspection was done Sept. 10 at Elk Run Coal‘s Roundbottom Powellton mine in Boone County, W.Va., due to overexposures and the mine’s otherwise poor compliance history with respirable dust rules, MSHA said. Inspectors issued 20 citations and one order. In this mine, the operator failed to follow the methane and dust control portion of an approved ventilation plan, and inspectors found many improperly ventilated areas, the agency said.
In one section where a continuous mining machine was located, there was not even enough air movement to turn the blades of an anemometer, the agency said. Air quantity in this area also was low due to a clogged scrubber filter on the continuous miner, which allowed only 60% of the air flow required. Also, only 27 of the 41 required water sprays were working. Tests of other sections and working faces also indicated low air quantities, MSHA said. Inspectors issued citations for a recently mined and roof-bolted face that did not have the minimum air quantities maintained as specified in the approved ventilation plan.
Additionally, coal accumulations existed in active areas for distances of up to 45 feet in length and 24 inches in depth, the Elk Run mine’s tracking system did not properly function to track individuals on the working sections, an undersized support pillar was found and reflectors required to mark roof conditions were not installed, the agency said. These conditions had not been identified during required operator examinations. So, MSHA issued citations.
Notable is that Elk Run Coal is a former Massey operation and ex-Massey operations have been a particular focus for MSHA in the impact program. Alpha said when it took over Massey that fixing the company’s controversial mine safety program was a top priority.
As a second example cited by MSHA, an impact inspection was conducted Sept. 12 at Dana Mining LLC‘s Arco No. 1 mine in Marion County, W.Va. Inspectors issued one unwarrantable failure citation and one unwarrantable failure order for not complying with the ventilation plan. This impact inspection was the mine’s first. Inspectors examined the active section where the continuous mining machine was operating. MSHA said they discovered the operator illegally mining coal with the entire length of the ventilation line curtain (88 feet) rolled up to the roof.
The Dana Mining operation was issued an unwarrantable failure order because no ventilating current was being provided to the face where the continuous miner was operating. The operator’s failure to follow the approved ventilation plan created conditions that expose miners to risks of explosions and black lung, MSHA said. These compliance failures prevented ventilation to remove respirable dust and gasses from the working environment. All production personnel were retrained on the requirements of the approved ventilation plan.
Other coal operators on the list of September inspections included RoxCoal, Dominion Coal, Cumberland River Coal and Drummond Co.
Since April 2010, MSHA said it has conducted 508 impact inspections and issued 8,950 citations, 875 orders and 38 safeguards.
Notable is that pretty much all MSHA findings, which are accusations and not final, are routinely appealed to a federal mine safety commission, where they are often reversed and/or the fines reduced.