August 30, 2012
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) on Aug. 30 released its July impact inspections, noting that federal inspectors issued 262 citations, 19 orders, and three safeguards during the special impact inspections conducted at eight coal mines and five metal/non-metal mines in July.
The monthly inspections, which began in force in 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; 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.
As an example from last month, MSHA conducted an impact inspection on July 17 at Rebco Coal Inc.’s Valley Mine No. 1 during the day shift. MSHA personnel captured and monitored the communication systems to prevent advance notification of the inspection. MSHA issued 54 citations and nine orders on the day of the inspection, followed by five more 104(b) withdrawal orders for the operator’s failure to abate the outstanding violations.
Inspectors found violations related to inadequate examinations, the mine’s ventilation plan, and the maintenance of electric equipment. The operator failed to conduct pre-shift examinations of the belt conveyor entry prior to miners working and traveling in the area, as well as adequate on-shift examinations of the belt conveyor entries. Inspectors also found that the operator did not properly maintain electric face equipment and failed to conduct adequate electrical examinations. These cited conditions were extensive, having existed over several weekly electrical examinations, and posed serious dangers to miners.
The continuous mining machine was found cutting coal on the wrong side in conflict with the approved ventilation plan, and the area had only a third of the required amount of ventilation. Several water sprays on the machine were functioning with only half of the required water pressure, and the ventilation curtain used was not properly placed. Proper ventilation and controls for methane and respirable coal mine dust must be in place to prevent mine explosions and black lung disease.
Inspectors issued a failure-to-abate order during the impact inspection because the operator had not removed accumulations of combustible materials such as empty rock-dust bags, empty wooden pallets, garbage in three crosscuts along the intake roadway, and small trash piles at various crosscuts along the intake. The accumulation of the combustible materials standard has been cited 24 times in a two-year period at this mine. Five other failure-to-abate orders were issued because the operator had not corrected violations on the roof-bolting machine’s automated temporary roof support systems, section power center, roof bolter, and fire suppression systems. Inspectors also observed two faulty circuit breakers and a broken receptacle latch on the power center, and six defects on the roof bolter. This impact inspection was the second conducted by MSHA at this mine which, effective Aug. 10, entered into nonproducing status.
“Mine operators have an obligation under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act to conduct thorough examinations of workplaces and equipment to find and fix hazards to protect miners,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, in a press release. “A failure to do so can expose miners to injury, illness, and death. MSHA takes these failures to comply seriously and, on Aug. 6, issued new rules requiring more thorough operator examinations.”
As a second example from last month, MSHA conducted an impact inspection on July 17 at Cobalt Coal Corp. Mining Inc.’s Westchester Mine in McDowell County, W.Va. The inspection party captured the phones to prevent advance notice of the inspection. Inspectors issued 47 enforcement actions, including one imminent danger order, 39 citations, six unwarrantable failure orders, and one safeguard. This impact inspection was the mine’s first.
An imminent danger order was issued when stray electrical current was detected on the frame of the section power center and the no. 2 shuttle car. The operator was cited for failing to maintain the underground electrical system in a safe operating condition. In total, 15 citations and orders were issued for not maintaining face equipment in permissible condition, as well as violations relating to electric equipment, trailing cables, grounding, and underground high voltage distribution. The stray electrical current and other cited hazards could have electrocuted or seriously injured miners.
Westchester Mine also failed to conduct weekly examinations on the roof bolter, complete the examination of the conveyor belt in its entirety, and perform adequate examinations of the alternate escapeway between the belt drive and the working section. The inspectors observed hazardous conditions on the directional lifeline and tripping/stumbling hazards in the walkway directly under the lifeline. These conditions should have been discovered during examinations and then corrected to provide miners with safe passage in the alternate escapeway during a mine emergency and while working underground.
The operator was also cited for violations of standards covering roof and rib control, fire suppression, and ventilation. Of 17 ventilation violations, one was not following the approved ventilation/methane dust control plan where the air quantity in the last open crosscut was about one-fourth of what is required. Inspectors found water accumulation up to 11 inches deep in the primary intake escapeway for a distance of 40 feet in an area with a mining height of 58 inches. These conditions, if left uncorrected, affect the effectiveness of the mine’s ventilation system to control and remove methane, respirable dust, and other contaminants from the miners’ working environment.
Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 477 impact inspections, which have resulted in a total of 8,545 citations, 852 orders, and 36 safeguards.