Federal inspectors issued 149 citations and 16 orders during special impact inspections conducted at nine coal mines and four metal/nonmetal mines last month.
The monthly inspections, which began in force in April 2010 following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns, said officials at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
These concerns include: 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; adverse conditions, such as increased methane liberation, faulty roof conditions and inadequate ventilation; and respirable dust.
In one example of an impact inspection conducted at Affinity Coal Company LLC’s Affinity Mine in Raleigh County, WV, inspectors issued 13 citations, 10 unwarrantable failure orders and one imminent danger order.
MSHA inspectors secured communications from the surface to prevent the possibility of advance notice.
The imminent danger order was for when a foreman was riding as a passenger in the bucket of a rubber-tired scoop in a wet, rough and uneven entry. Riding in the bucket violated a safeguard MSHA issued on Sept. 17, 2012. A miner riding in the bucket of a scoop can end up thrown from the bucket and crushed. There have already been two fatalities involving scoops this year at the Affinity Mine.
Five of the unwarrantable failure orders were for violations of the mine’s ventilation plan.
MSHA measured no ventilation on a section where two miners were operating a roof bolter, and only 150 cubic feet per minute of ventilation on another section where the ventilation plan required 7,800 cfm and the operator was actively mining coal. These conditions have the potential to result in methane and dust accumulations that may result in an explosion or fire, and expose miners to conditions that can lead to black lung. MSHA inspectors found other similar conditions of airflow significantly below the mine’s ventilation plan requirements.
The operator also allowed excessive accumulations of combustible materials in the form of dry coal and coal dust ranging from 5 inches to 2 feet deep. Enforcement personnel identified 10 areas where the operator failed to apply rock dust along the mine roof and ribs for up to 80 feet, creating conditions that exposed miners to potential ignition and explosion hazards. The mine also faced citations for inadequate pre-shift examinations.
In addition, one unwarrantable failure order was for a violation of the roof control plan where the operator did not install reflectors to signal the last row of roof supports. Warning signals prevent miners from entering areas where the mine roof does not have support and could potentially collapse on them.
“While many mine operators have improved working conditions at their mines, we continue to see unacceptable conditions at some mines that put lives at risk,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main. “The types of conditions found by inspectors during this surprise inspection are the types that can expose miners to methane and coal dust explosions and black lung, and cannot be tolerated in the mining industry.”
Since April 2010, MSHA conducted 642 impact inspections and issued 10,789 citations, 996 orders and 45 safeguards.