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MSHA finds hundreds of violations in inspection sweep

Read the list of cited mines.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal inspectors issued hundreds of citations and enforcement orders last month in a sweep of coal mines across the country following the worst coal-mining disaster in 40 years, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said Thursday.

MSHA inspectors took the most serious actions in Kentucky, where they ordered production halted at six mines where they found nearly 300 violations, including numerous problems related to roof control and the accumulation of explosive materials.

In West Virginia, 23 mining operations were cited for a total of nearly 500 violations, with more than 40 percent of them being considered "significant and substantial" by MSHA inspectors.

"After last month's tragic reminder of the consequences of failing to make safety a priority, it is appalling that these operations continued to flout fundamental safety and health standards," said Joe Main, assistant labor secretary for MSHA.

Main ordered the April 19-21 inspection "blitz" in the wake of the April 5 explosion that killed 29 miners at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County. MSHA inspectors fanned out across the coalfields, focused on 56 underground mines targeted because of a history of significant or repeat violations of safety standards concerning methane, ventilation and rock-dusting to control the buildup of explosive coal dust.

In all, MSHA issued nearly 1,500 citations and more-serious enforcement orders at the mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia. Nationwide, 44 of the enforcement actions taken were considered by MSHA inspectors to be "significant and substantial."

At five of the mines closed in Kentucky, safety violations have since been fixed. One operation, Conshor Mining LLC's Mine No. 1 in Harlan County, fixed its violations but then shut down production. Another mine, Red Bird Coal Co.'s Butcher Branch Mine in Bell County, closed rather than comply with the MSHA citations and enforcement orders.

The Kentucky operations that received orders to withdraw miners had been cited for total violations that ranged from 25 to 78, and were hit more frequently with enforcement orders by MSHA inspectors.

Eight Massey Energy Co. mines in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia were among those targeted in the inspection sweep, and received a total of nearly 200 citations and enforcement orders.

Five Consol Energy Inc. mines in West Virginia and Virginia received a total of 150 citations and enforcement orders. Five Patriot Coal Co. mines in West Virginia and Kentucky received a total of 88 citations and enforcement orders.

In a news release, MSHA also noted that it had filed lawsuits against two mining companies, Manalapan Mining Co. and Left Fork Mining Co., to prohibit surface employees at those operations from warning workers underground of impending inspections.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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