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MSHA News Release: [10/31/2012]
Contact:   Amy Louviere
Phone:   (202) 693-9423
Release Number 12-2182-NAT

MSHA announces results of September impact inspections
Criteria for selecting coal mines to include focus on respirable dust

ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that federal inspectors issued 150 citations and 10 orders during special impact inspections conducted at 13 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, 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. MSHA recently added a criterion to its impact inspection policy to emphasize the selection of mines that have had compliance issues related to respirable coal dust.

"As part of our overall strategy to improve compliance in the nation's mines, and because of the egregious nature of some of the coal dust-related violations our inspectors have encountered during past impact inspections, I've instructed our enforcement personnel to give special consideration to mines with respirable dust or ventilation and dust control plan compliance concerns," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

All of the coal mines selected in September previously had been cited for violations regarding respirable dust sampling results or methods, inadequate dust control or ventilation plans, on-shift examination violations or hazard complaints related to respirable dust. The impact inspections focused on compliance with the respirable dust standard and with approved ventilation and dust control plans.

As an example from last month, an impact inspection was conducted Sept. 10 at Elk Run Coal Inc.'s Roundbottom Powellton Mine in Boone County, W.Va., due to overexposures and the mine's otherwise poor compliance history with respirable dust requirements. Inspectors issued 20 citations and one order during the health-focused inspection.

Each set of mining machinery is required to have a minimum amount of air available to ventilate all working faces, dilute gases and carry coal dust away from the workers. In this mine, the operator failed to follow the methane and dust control portion of an approved ventilation plan, and inspectors found many improperly ventilated areas. In one section where a continuous mining machine was located, there was not even enough air movement to turn the blades of an anemometer an inspector's air measurement device to measure any ventilating current.

Air quantity in this area also was low due to a clogged scrubber filter on the continuous miner, which allowed only 60 percent of the air flow required. Additionally, only 27 of the 41 required water sprays were working.

Tests of other sections and working faces also indicated low air quantities. Inspectors issued citations for a recently mined and roof-bolted face that did not have the minimum air quantities maintained as specified in the operator's approved ventilation plan.

Additionally, coal accumulations existed in active areas for distances of up to 45 feet in length and 24 inches in depth, the mine's tracking system did not properly function to track individuals on the working sections, an undersized coal support pillar was found and reflectors required to mark roof conditions were not installed. These conditions had not been identified during required operator examinations. Consequently, MSHA issued citations for the violations.

"Inadequate ventilation, insufficient air quantities and improperly maintained dust controls expose miners to the risk of explosions and black lung," said Main.

As a second example from last month, an impact inspection was conducted Sept. 12 at Dana Mining LLC's Arco No. 1 Mine in Marion County, W.Va. Federal inspectors issued one unwarrantable failure citation and one unwarrantable failure order for not complying with the approved ventilation plan. This impact inspection was the mine's first.

Inspectors examined the active section where the continuous mining machine was operating and discovered the operator illegally mining coal with the entire length of the ventilation line curtain (88 feet) rolled up to the roof.

The mine was issued an unwarrantable failure order because no ventilating current was being provided to the face where the continuous miner was operating. The operator's failure to follow the approved ventilation plan created conditions that expose miners to risks of explosions and black lung. These compliance failures prevented ventilation to remove respirable dust and gasses from the working environment. All production personnel were retrained on the requirements of the approved ventilation plan.

Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 508 impact inspections and issued 8,950 citations, 875 orders and 38 safeguards.

Editor's note: A spreadsheet containing the results of impact inspections in September 2012 accompanies this news release.