The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that federal inspectors issued 150 citations and nine orders during special impact inspections conducted at eight coal mines and three metal/nonmetal mines last month.
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. These matters 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.
As an example from last month, one impact inspection was conducted on Dec. 11 during the day shift at Dorchester Enterprises Inc., Mine No. 4 in Wise County, Va. Upon arrival at the mine, MSHA personnel secured the mine's communication system to prevent advance notice of the inspection. The inspection team traveled underground to two mechanized mining units, and an additional team member inspected the surface. MSHA cited violations concerning ventilation practices and conditions, as well as accumulation of combustible material. A total of 13 citations and five orders were issued, nine cited on the surface and nine underground.
Two unwarrantable failure orders were issued for the mine operator failing to follow the approved ventilation plan on the active mechanized mining units. The inspection team observed visible dust overriding the machine scrubber system and rolling across the top of the continuous mining machine and shuttle car operator. Air readings taken by inspectors indicated increased potential for ignitions in the mine as well as for injuries and illnesses to miners. The mine operator has been cited 35 times in the past two years for failure to follow the approved ventilation plan.
This impact inspection was the second at Mine No. 4; 10 citations were issued during the previous impact inspection in February 2011.
“December’s impact inspections found one of the lowest numbers of violations to date, which tells us broadly that mines undergoing impact inspections are improving,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “But we still see some mines that fail to address recurring problems that put miners at risk.”
As another example from last month, MSHA conducted an impact inspection Dec. 4-9 at Asarco LLC, Ray Mine, a large surface copper ore mine located in Gila County, Ariz. The mine, which employs 783 miners, was issued 28 citations. Conditions cited included not providing insulating material to prevent electrical shock to miners and equipment safety defects that exposed miners to hazards and were not repaired in a timely manner. Ray Mine has been cited 26 times in the past two years for violating this equipment safety standard.
Two citations were issued for openings in railings that exposed miners to fall hazards of approximately 100 ft. in one area, and a separate area that exposed miners to fall hazards of more than 8 ft. into a sulfide solution pond. Another citation was issued for fall hazards of more than 20 ft. that were not immediately apparent to miners and not properly identified with barricades and/or warning signs. Two citations were issued for not providing automatic backup alarms on a welding truck and a skid loader to warn miners in the area of the vehicles’ movement.
This impact inspection was the second at the mine; 46 citations were issued during the previous impact inspection in April 2011.
Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 550 impact inspections and issued 9,595 citations, 909 orders and 40 safeguards.