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Citations, fines rising at site where miner died

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Safety violations and fines have been on the rise at an Alpha Natural Resources subsidiary where a West Virginia coal miner died over the weekend, according to U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration records.

Section foreman Jeremy Sigler, 34, of Pool, was killed when he was struck by material from the collapse of a wall at the company's Kingston No. 2 Mine, an underground mine in Fayette County.

The incident occurred at about 6:15 p.m. Saturday and is under investigation by MSHA and the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training. Sigler is the first West Virginia coal miner to die on the job in 2012.

It was the second fatal accident in the last 18 months at Alpha's Kingston Mining Inc. subsidiary, which operates two underground mines in the Scarbro area.

"In this sad time, our prayers and heartfelt condolences go to Mr. Sigler's family," said Kingston Mining President Charlie Bearse said in an Alpha news release.

"While the mine is idled, we will work closely with the outside investigators to determine how and why the accident occurred," Bearse said. "We are administering to his family's needs and providing counseling to his fellow miners at this time to help them deal with the loss of their co-worker."

Together, Kingston No. 1 and Kingston No. 2 employ about 200 workers and last year produced a little more than 1.1 million tons of coal.

Both operations were part of Abingdon, Va.-based Alpha before its purchase of Massey Energy in June 2011.

Alpha frequently touts its "Running Right" safety program, and has been promoting safety improvements at the former Massey operations since it took them over last year.

At the two Kingston operations, total citations issued by MSHA inspectors doubled between 2009 and 2011. Total fines assessed by MSHA jumped from $63,000 to $334,000 over that same period of time, according to federal agency records.

Safety violations and fines increased at the same time that Alpha was increasing production at Kinston No. 2 from 324,000 tons in 2009 to 524,000 tons last year.

Combined, the two mines had a violation rate per inspection day that was slightly worse than the national average over the last 15 months, according to MSHA's online rating system.

At Kingston No. 1, 56-year-old roof bolting machine operator William R. Dooley was killed in a roof fall that occurred at about 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 11, 2010.

MSHA inspectors concluded that the company had not properly analyzed roof conditions at the operation or adequately protected workers from adverse roof conditions. The company was fined $35,000 for two MSHA violations, records show.

Bearse formerly headed Massey's Freedom Mining, a Kentucky mine that was targeted by MSHA for a first-of-its-kind federal court injunction because of its repeated and serious safety violations.

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


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