June 28, 2011
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced on June 28 that federal inspectors issued 428 citations, orders and safeguards during special impact inspections conducted at 15 coal mines and four metal/nonmetal mines last month. The coal mines were issued 339 citations, 12 orders and two safeguards, while the metal/nonmetal operations were issued 62 citations and 13 orders.
These inspections, which began in force during April 2010 following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their 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.
“These impact inspections continue to spotlight serious health and safety conditions that exist at a number of mining operations around the country,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “MSHA inspectors will not hesitate to use all of the enforcement tools at their disposal to bring these mines into compliance.”
As one example from last month’s impact inspections, on May 6, an inspection team arrived during the evening shift at Perry County Coal Corp.’s E4-2 Mine in Perry County, Ky. At the time of the inspection, the mine was on a 10-day spot inspection for methane liberation. Inspectors seized and monitored two phones on the surface to prevent advance notification of their arrival. They visited all four mechanized mining units and inspected conveyor belts in the outer areas of the mine.
Altogether, they issued 45 citations and three orders at this mine. Orders were issued for failing to abate a previous violation for combustible material along a conveyor belt and failure to properly conduct the required dust parameter checks and on-shift examination. The operator was issued citations for ventilation-related violations, accumulations of combustible material along conveyor belts and on electrical equipment, and failure to maintain lifelines in the escapeways miners would use during a mine emergency. These conditions can lead to injury or death from a mine fire or explosion. The operator also was cited for failing to maintain dust collection systems designed to protect miners from black lung disease.
As a second example from last month, a team conducted an inspection May 16-23 at the Sherwin Alumina Co. LLC, Sherwin Alumina LP facility, a large alumina mine employing about 550 miners located in San Patricio County, Texas. MSHA issued 35 citations and six unwarrantable failure orders.
Among the conditions inspectors found were areas where miners could fall from heights because of a lack of railings, covers, or other protection; malfunctioning switches on electric equipment and circuits; equipment with safety defects; unguarded conveyor belts; and miners failing to wear life jackets or belts where there was a danger of falling into water. These are conditions commonly associated with injury or death in the mining industry.
That impact inspection was the second conducted at the Sherwin Alumina mine. The first was in May 2010.
Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 278 impact inspections, which have resulted in 5,011 citations, 467 orders, and 16 safeguards.