Federal inspectors issued 131 citations and 11 orders during special impact inspections conducted at 12 coal mines in August, said officials at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
The monthly inspections, which began in force in April 2010 following the death of 29 miners in 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 evidence of a mine’s failure to control respirable dust and operator tactics to prevent MSHA from finding violations. The August 2014 impact inspections included examples where MSHA found both.
In one example of an inspection, one ended up conducted Aug. 8, during the evening shift at Rocksprings Development Inc.’s Camp Creek Mine in Wayne County, West Virginia.
The inspection followed multiple hazard complaints received by the MSHA hotline, including allegations the mine was mining coal without curtains to control dust exposure and employing tactics to hide the violations from inspectors. Inspection personnel monitored the communications systems at the mine to ensure no advance notification went out to underground sections by mine personnel. MSHA issued five unwarrantable failure orders and six citations during the inspection.
MSHA cited the Camp Creek Mine 64 times in the past two years for failing to follow the approved ventilation plan. The mine, a gassy operation, liberates over 500,000 cubic feet of methane gas per day and is on a 10-day spot inspection schedule for methane. MSHA issued five unwarrantable failure orders and one citation for the operator’s failure to follow the mine’s approved ventilation plan for two operating sections. Inspectors found the mine operating with ventilation curtains rolled up in several different working areas and with dust so thick they could only see the lights on the roof bolting machine and the boom of the continuous mining machine. Ventilation curtains direct airflow in mining areas to ensure sufficient airflow to prevent methane accumulations and to control miners’ exposure to respirable coal mine dust.
MSHA also cited the mine operator for failure to maintain the dust filtering systems, which help protect the machines’ operators from harmful dust levels, on two roof bolting machines. This marked the second impact inspection conducted at this mine.
“We continue to see mines ignoring required ventilation curtains needed to control methane gas and respirable coal dust that causes black lung. The new respirable dust rule requires mine operators to conduct thorough exams each shift to ensure required ventilation and dust controls are in place, with top mine officials certifying those exams,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “That rule is designed to curb the types of abuses that lead to black lung disease, and we will use the full measure of that rule and the Mine Act to do just that.”
Other MSHA impact inspection teams monitoring underground communications have found and cited mine operators engaged in violations of health and safety standards when they were not expecting MSHA personnel to be on-site.
Previous impact inspections found numerous deficiencies in ventilation and dust control at mines, including Rhino Eastern LLC’s Eagle Mine 3; Elk Run Coal Co.’s Roundbottom Powellton Mine and Seng Creek Powellton Mine; Hanover Resources LLC’s Caymus Mine; Viper Coal LLC’s Mine No. 7 and Coal River Mining LLC’s Fork Creek No. 1 Mine. Mines that run without using dust controls and sufficient ventilation increase miners’ exposure to respirable coal mine dust, which can cause coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, as well as increasing exposure to potential ignitions and explosions.
MSHA’s impact inspection enforcement activities have emphasized protecting miners from practices that expose them to increased health risks, including increased exposure to harmful levels of resiprable dust. Those efforts are in addition to the new respirable dust rule designed to reduce miners exposure to unhealthy dust.
Another impact inspection began on Aug. 27, during the off-shift at South Central Coal Indiana LLC’s Landree Mine in Greene County, Indiana. Three unwarrantable failure orders and nine citations, including one for advance notice of an inspection, ended up issued. This was the first impact inspection at this mine.
Inspection personnel traveled to the mine site undetected and monitored the communications systems to ensure that no advance notification went out to the mine’s personnel. However, as a result of a conversation overheard between surface and underground mine personnel, inspectors issued the mine operator a 104(a) violation of Section 103 of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, which prohibits advance notice of an inspection.
“Operators giving advance notice of inspections make it impossible for MSHA to accurately observe what goes on in a mine to protect workers,” said Main. “MSHA is assessing necessary actions to prevent these practices that undercut the purpose of the Mine Act.”
Additional 104(d)(2) orders were for allowing materials to accumulate in a belt conveyor entry and for inadequate examination for hazardous conditions along the beltline on the evening shift. Other 104(a) citations included accumulations of combustible materials, misaligned belts, inadequate cable insulation, no ventilation line curtain installed and inadequate maintenance on the continuous mining machine.
Since April 2010, MSHA conducted 810 impact inspections and issued 12,948 citations, 1,189 orders and 54 safeguards.