10 U.S. Mine Operators Warned on Safety

October 9, 2009

The operators of 10 U.S. mines, including the largest private-sector coal company in the world, have been warned they must improve health and safety conditions or face stricter enforcement and penalties, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said this week.

Half the mines are in West Virginia, the nation’s second-largest coal producer. One is a lead and zinc mine in Missouri and the rest are coal operations in Kentucky, Indiana and Virginia.

Inspectors found high levels of violations that could cause serious injuries or illnesses at each of the operations, MSHA said. For instance, Massey Energy Co.’s Tiller No. 1 underground mine in Virginia received citations for serious violations at 222 percent of the national average, according to MSHA.

The agency hopes the notification will encourage the operators to make improvements, MSHA deputy director Gregory Wagner said in a statement. MSHA didn’t identify specific violations in the letters, giving only numbers and rates of violations.

MSHA has issued similar warnings four times since June 2007. Operators have 90 days to reduce the number of violations, and will face closer scrutiny if they don’t. MSHA also can order mines evacuated until violations are fixed.

Tiller No. 1 was one of three Massey mines identified for persistent problems. The other two are underground mines in West Virginia.

The Richmond, Va.-based company said it will take corrective action at the mines and noted it has done so in the past when MSHA notified it of excessive violations at other operations.

“Massey’s safety record is consistently better than the industry average,” the company said. “Massey will take all necessary steps to ensure that these operations notified of the potential pattern of violations meet Massey Energy’s standards.”

In Missouri, Bob Roscoe, vice president of mining at The Doe Run Co., said the company was surprised at MSHA’s notice about the Buick Mine and Mill near Viburnum, one of the company’s six underground mines.

Roscoe said the company is taking the MSHA notice “extremely seriously.”

“Safety has been and will always be an important priority for Doe Run,” Roscoe said. “In the meantime, we will continue to equip, train and work with all of our employees to deliver on our commitments to keep each other safe.”

The list also included mines operated by coal industry giant Peabody Energy in Indiana, Richmond, Va.-based James River Coal in Kentucky, St. Louis-based Patriot Coal in West Virginia and New York-based Renco Group, as well as three smaller operators.

A Peabody spokeswoman had no immediate comment, while representatives of James River, Patriot and Renco did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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