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Mixed Results Seen in Mine Safety Agency’s February Impact Inspections

  • April 21, 2016

Two coal mines in Appalachia received no citations while four other coal operations in that region, along with an Indiana cement plant, were tagged with alleged infractions in the double digits by the Mine Safety and Health Administration during an impact inspection sweep in February. Ten coal mines and five metal/non-metal facilities in nine states were visited during the month.

In addition, a Nevada gold mine received just a single alleged violation. Four other mines received five or fewer citations. These low numbers are noteworthy because MSHA’s impact inspection program seeks out mines identified by the agency as troubled by compliance problems.

Three of the higher-citation coal mines were also located in Kentucky and West Virginia; the fourth was in Southwestern Virginia. In a March 30 press release announcing the inspection results, MSHA singled out a fifth coal mine. The agency said the mine had attracted its attention due to alleged continuing noncompliance with its roof control and ventilation plans, hazard condition complaints, and accident history. Enforcement personnel issued nine citations and six orders, citing the Pennsylvania operator with four alleged unwarrantable failure violations involving an inadequate pre-shift examination, unattended energized equipment, accumulations of methane in the same working section where the allegedly unattended equipment was located, and failure to maintain firefighting equipment along an active beltline.

Under the program, which began after 29 miners died in a West Virginia coal mine explosion in April 2010, MSHA has conducted 1,113 impact inspections and issued 15,979 citations, 1,309 orders, and 58 safeguards. A safeguard is designed to minimize hazards in the transportation of men and materials in coal mines. It is issued by an inspector and, unless successfully challenged, the safeguard becomes a legal requirement from then on at the affected mine.

For many mine operators, compliance problems and the threat of MSHA citations remain a significant challenge. Our experienced attorneys are available to help avoid an impact inspection or to minimize the impact should one occur.
In a separate new release, dated April 7, MSHA stated that preliminary data identified 2015 as the safest year ever in U.S. mining, with fatality and injury rates for the industry as a whole coming in at record lows. Adjusted for reduced employment figures, compliance with safety standards also improved. This was evident in an 11-percent reduction in the number of citations and orders issued. In addition, with about 98 percent of alleged violations assessed, penalty assessments dropped to $62.3 million during the year, the agency said. In contrast, fines totaled $96.7 million in 2014, according to MSHA’s database.

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