The Times West Virginian

November 11, 2012

‘Blatant’ violations

MSHA finds ‘conditions that expose miners to risks of explosions and black lung’

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety & Health Administration recently inspected a mine in Marion County because of issues with respirable coal dust.

In the month of September, MSHA conducted impact inspections at 13 coal mines and three metal/nonmetal mines, and issued 150 citations and 10 orders as a result.

In MSHA’s District 3, which includes Northern West Virginia, Maryland and Ohio, Dana Mining Co. LLC’s Arco No. 1 Mine in Marion County was one of the mines selected for an impact inspection, conducted on Sept. 12. This was the first impact inspection at the mine, which is located in the Monongah area.

Kevin Stricklin, administrator for coal at MSHA, said MSHA has been doing monthly impact inspections since April 2010, when the explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine at Montcoal killed 29 miners. Following that disaster, MSHA made the decision to improve compliance in the mines, and — based on some of the conditions found in the past two and a half years — felt it was important to continue those inspections.

“We’ve done 508 impact inspections since April of 2010, and there’s been a number of mines that have been reoccurring for us,” he said. “There are times when we go back and find blatant conditions again and again at these mines.”

MSHA has issued a total of 8,950 citations, 875 orders and 38 safeguards during that time, according to a press release from MSHA.

MSHA studies a lot of tracking sheets and information, and tries to pick mines that it thinks could have problems or even more issues when MSHA isn’t present. For the most recent impact inspections, MSHA focused on respirable coal dust, Stricklin said.

“It’s the dust that is inhaled into the lungs,” he said while explaining respirable coal dust. “It’s not visible, and it’s actually what causes black lung.”

Stricklin said MSHA is very concerned about black lung in the workforce and wants to do everything it can to keep miners from getting this disease.

MSHA was interested in mines that in the past have had respirable dust citations and ventilation plan violations, or have shown other causes for concern involving respirable dust, he said. MSHA asked each of its coal mining districts to do an impact inspection.

Because Dana Mining’s Arco No. 1 Mine didn’t comply with the approved ventilation plan, it received an unwarrantable failure citation as well as an unwarrantable failure order from federal inspectors in September.

Where the continuous mining machine was running, the entire length of the ventilation line curtain was being rolled up 88 feet to the roof, which was one major issue, Stricklin said.

He explained that the ventilation line curtain was supposed to deliver air to the miners, but would short circuit and wasn’t helping reduce the respirable dust and any methane. Instead of hanging the canvas, the mine kept it rolled up for convenience or as a shortcut, Stricklin said.

The other violation had to do with the mine’s failure to provide a ventilating current to the face where the continuous mining machine was operating.

“The operator’s failure to follow the approved ventilation plan created conditions that expose miners to risks of explosions and black lung,” the news release said. “These compliance failures prevented ventilation to remove respirable dust and gasses from the working environment.”

Stricklin said Arco No. 1 Mine initially had to train all its people and section bosses that this is unacceptable, and MSHA basically gave it a warning. The mine has to comply with keeping the canvas in place and keeping the air ventilated.

If MSHA finds that to not be the case, it could put more pressure on the operations by increasing the size of the fine and what must be done to correct the condition, he said.

“We wouldn’t let them go back to work until they made those corrections,” Stricklin said. “We go to the Dana Mine on a frequent basis.”

He said MSHA will definitely be back at the mine, and will question the miners and the section bosses to see if they know what’s required and if they’re meeting those obligations. The most important thing is to make sure that the mine is following the rules while operating.

An impact inspection also took place at Elk Run Coal Inc.’s Roundbottom Powellton Mine in Boone County on Sept. 10. Because of overexposures and failure to meet respirable dust obligations, the mine received 20 citations and one order.

“It’s discouraging as a mining professional to see some of the conditions we see when we go into the mines,” Stricklin said.

MSHA hopes that mine operators comply on their own regardless of whether enforcement is present or not, he said.

Dana Mining Co. could not be reached for comment.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.