Inspections Uncover Serious Safety Violations; 6 Kentucky Mines Closed

May 11, 2010

Hundreds of serious violations were discovered at 57 troubled U.S. coal mines during surprise inspections just days after the nation’s worst coal mining disaster in 40 years, federal regulators said recently.

Six small Kentucky operations had so many problems that inspectors forced them to close and later sued two for allegedly interfering with inspectors by tipping off workers that they’d arrived, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said. Two of the mines remain closed.

MSHA director Joe Main called the results “appalling.”

“At the very least, they have failed to conduct their own mine examinations for hazards,” Main said. “Mine operators have a responsibility to provide for the safety and health of the miners they employ, and too many of the mines we inspected are failing to take that responsibility seriously.”

The six Kentucky mines were cited for 238 violations and given 55 orders for miners to leave at least portions of mines while safety violations were being repaired. Overall, MSHA said it issued 1,339 citations nationwide during the five-day blitz from April 19 to 23.

MSHA launched the blitz in response to the April 5 explosion that killed 29 men and injured two at Virginia-based Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia. MSHA’s preliminary report on the explosion lists methane and coal dust as the cause. The agency focused the blitz on mines with high numbers of violations in the past and focused on rules covering methane, ventilation and efforts to control coal dust.

Inspectors cited eight Massey operations for dozens of serious violations during the blitz, MSHA said.

Massey did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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