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Impact inspections at 13 mines in February 2024 identify 58 significant, substantial violations

26 March 2024

The US Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has announced it completed impact inspections at 13 mines in nine states in February 2024, identifying 207 violations. The agency began conducting impact inspections after an April 2010 explosion in West Virginia at the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners.

Image: MSHA
Image: MSHA

MSHA’s impact inspections since 2023 identified 3,134 violations, including 885 significant and substantial (S&S) and 59 unwarrantable failure findings. An S&S violation is one that could contribute in a significant and substantial way to the cause and effect of a safety or health hazard. Violations designated as unwarrantable failures occur when an inspector finds aggravated conduct that constitutes more than ordinary negligence.

The agency conducts impact inspections at mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to poor compliance history; previous accidents, injuries and illnesses; and other compliance concerns. Of 207 violations MSHA identified in February 2024, 58 were S&S violations and two had an unwarrantable failure finding. The agency completed these inspections at mines in Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and West Virginia.

“February’s impact inspections uncovered hazardous conditions that put miners’ safety at risk needlessly,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “Impact inspections continue to be a valuable tool that MSHA uses to protect miners’ safety and health by identifying hazards, requiring corrective actions, and holding operators accountable for violations of the law.”

Due to its prior enforcement history, Gentry Mine #3 in Emery, Utah, a coal mine operated by Gentry Mountain Mining LLC that MSHA inspected in February. Agency inspectors arrived on Feb. 12, 2024 and travelled throughout the mine to observe main line belts and other active working sections. MSHA inspectors identified and cited 14 violations, including six S&S violations with several hazardous conditions that posed a significant risk to the safety and health of miners. Specifically, MSHA inspectors found the following conditions existed at the mine:

- Failure to maintain essential equipment properly, exposing miners to serious smoke and fire hazards. Inspectors identified multiple issues with the fire deluge controller, including using electrical tape to hold down the reset button and bridging out the controller, which made it inoperable. In addition, inspectors found multiple malfunctioning fire deluge locations along the mainline belt that would have prevented sprays from activating in the event of a fire. They also observed excessive amounts of coal accumulation at a belt drive where the fire deluge failed to operate.

- Failure to support roof and ribs adequately. Inspectors observed loose rib conditions at walkways near the feeder, and a worn and damaged roof bolting machine. These conditions exposed miners to roof collapse and rib fall hazards and the potential for serious and fatal injuries. MSHA continues to remind operators of the requirements to conduct thorough pre-shift and on-shift exams of the roof, face and ribs to ensure that systems are kept in good working condition.

- Other serious violations, including the operator’s failure to record methane measurements, equipment defects and to block mobile equipment against hazardous motion, which directly violated a safeguard issued previously. A safeguard is a unique mine safety standard issued to a coal mine operator to minimize hazards underground related to transportation of miners and materials.

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