Mines Undergo Surprise Safety Checks

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 @ 03:03 PM gHale


Federal inspectors issued 253 citations and orders last week during special impact inspections conducted at 15 coal mines, six of which were in Kentucky, and two metal/nonmetal mines last month, federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) officials said.

The coal mines got 235 citations and eight orders, while the metal/nonmetal operations received 23 citations and six orders.

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Five of the coal mines earned inspections because of frequent hazard complaints. Investigations of 20 anonymous complaints between March 1, 2011, and March 1, 2012, at these five mines resulted in citations when allegations in 12 of the complaints proved true.

These 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.

As an example from last month, MSHA conducted an impact inspection Feb. 28 at Glen Alum Operations LLC’s Upper Cedar Grove No. 4 Mine near Wharncliffe, WV, in response to an anonymous complaint submitted the previous day. The complaint said 11 unsafe conditions relating to electrical, roof control and combustible material hazards existed underground. Inspectors issued 23 citations and three orders, 14 of which were significant and substantial.

The first violation cited by inspectors occurred when an employee called underground to provide advance notification of the inspectors’ presence. The gravity of this violation became even more important because of the number of violations and hazardous conditions encountered in the mine, so the initial citation ended up modified.

One closure order was for inadequate permissibility examinations on electrical equipment, and two unwarrantable failure orders were for inadequate preshift inspections of the section and belt conveyor entries. MSHA also found and cited conditions such as inadequate or missing firefighting equipment, improper maintenance of dust suppression sprays on the continuous mining machine, accumulations of combustible material, electrical violations, equipment that was in an unsafe operating condition and missing lifeline reflectors.

“Due to the recent rash of fatalities at coal surface facilities, the majority of last month’s impact inspections focused on surface operations,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

An impact inspection occurred during the day shift Feb. 9 at Clintwood Elkhorn Mining Inc.’s Laurel Branch Surface Mine in Hurley, VA. The inspection team issued 32 citations, 22 designated as significant and substantial. Upon arriving at the mine, MSHA inspectors reviewed its examination records and inspected highwalls, explosive magazines and 33 pieces of equipment. They issued 11 citations for accumulations of combustible materials – including oil, hydraulic fluids and/or coal dust – on the engine compartments of front end loaders, excavators, dozers and trucks.

Laurel Branch also failed to maintain effective drill dust control on three drills used in the coal seam pit. The inspector observed large plumes of dust emitting from the doors on the dust box, between the drill steel and chip deflector, and from the flap of the broken drill skirt. These conditions exposed the powder crew, located 40 feet away, to high silica rock dust as well as the risk of developing silicosis and other respiratory impairments.

The operator ended up with four citations for not properly maintaining dry chemical fire suppression systems and fire extinguishers in a usable and operative condition on dozers. Laurel Branch relied upon its contractor, Logan Corp., to properly check these fire suppression systems. As a result, MSHA cited the contractor twice for failure to examine and maintain firefighting equipment. These conditions, in combination with heat generated by engine, transmission, battery and fuel pump components, exposed mobile equipment operators to fire and smoke inhalation hazards.



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