The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is crediting its stepped-up inspections for making the nations mines safer.
In January, MSHA federal inspectors issued 245 citations and 13 orders during special impact inspections conducted at nine coal mines and six metal/nonmetal mines.
The monthly 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, the agency said in a news release. These matters include 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; adverse conditions such as increased methane liberation, faulty roof conditions and inadequate ventilation and respirable dust.
"We believe that the impact inspection initiative has made mines safer," said Joseph A Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "According to a recent evaluation of mines targeted in this special enforcement program, there have clearly been improvements."
MSHA reported that from April 2010 through December 2012, total violations (per 100 on-site inspection hours) decreased 15 percent in coal mines and 13 percent in metal/nonmetal mines, significant and substantial violations decreased 19 percent in coal mines and 33 percent in metal/nonmetal mines, unwarrantable failure violations decreased 43 percent in coal mines and 60 percent in metal/nonmetal mines, and operator-reported lost-time injuries per 200,000 hours worked decreased 8 percent in coal mines and 14 percent in metal/nonmetal mines.
"However, as we have also said, some mines still don't get it, and we will not hesitate to use our enforcement tools when we identify those mines," said Main.
In its news release, MSHA uses its Jan. 15 impact inspection of Rain Coal Co. LLC's No. 1 Mine in Floyd County, KY as an example. Immediately upon arrival, MSHA personnel secured the mine's communication system to prevent advance notice of the inspection. Inspectors issued 54 citations and five orders that resulted in closure of the mine until Jan. 23. This impact inspection was the first conducted at this mine.
The impact inspection was conducted in part to investigate an anonymous hazardous condition complaint, which resulted in some of the enforcement actions.
The operator placed the mine in non-producing status on Feb. 11.
Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 565 impact inspections and issued 9,840 citations, 922 orders and 40 safeguards.