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Impact inspections find 247 violations at 15 mines with histories of repeated health, safety violations

17 June 2024

The US Department of Labor has announced that its Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) completed impact inspections at 15 mines in 11 states in April 2024, issuing 247 violations and two safeguards. An inspector issued safeguards due to site-specific standards at underground coal mines to address safety hazards related to transportation of miners and materials in haulage ways.

Image: MSHA
Image: MSHA

The agency began conducting impact inspections after the deaths of 29 miners in an April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia.

MSHA’s impact inspections since 2023 have identified 3,580 violations, including 1,026 significant and substantial (S&S) violations and 63 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 beyond 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. In April, MSHA inspectors completed inspections at mines in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming. Of the 247 violations identified, the agency evaluated 67 were significant and substantial.

“April’s impact inspections found serious conditions that placed miners at risk of slip, trip and fall and powered haulage hazards,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “More than half of the fatal accidents so far this year have involved powered haulage. Mine operators, contractors and miners need to remain vigilant in identifying and eliminating hazards.”

The Foreman Quarry and Plant operated by Ash Grove Cement Company One in Little River County, Arkansas, was among the mines selected for an impact inspection in April. MSHA chose the cement mine for an impact inspection due, in part, to a recent accident and an unplanned explosion in the alternative fuel storage area.

Inspectors arrived at the mine on the morning of April 22 and headed directly to pre-determined areas of concern based on prior inspection history. The inspection resulted in a total of 50 citations, 14 of which were designated as significant and substantial, including the following:

- MSHA issued 21 housekeeping violations, 10 of which were designated as S&S. Inspectors observed a buildup of material on equipment and throughout the mine. In many instances, they found footprints through the buildup of material on equipment, highlighting that the conditions exposed miners to slip and fall hazards. The agency continues to stress the importance of thorough examinations for potential hazards in all areas of the mine.

- Inspectors issued an S&S violation after finding the mine operator failed to provide and maintain a safe means of access to the particle analyser shack; 39 inches of accumulated material were measured on the shack’s metal roof, harming its integrity and causing it to sag visibly. The condition placed miners at risk of fatal crushing injuries.

- Large rocks and debris were observed on the edge of the feed hopper for the reclaim belt. Miners were working in the area, with no barricades and signage posted, exposing them to falling material hazards and potential crushing injuries. Inspectors issued an S&S violation for this hazardous condition.

- Inspectors found non-functioning reverse-activated back alarms, leading to two S&S violations. Other hazardous conditions found at the mine included mobile equipment defects, parking procedures not being followed, equipment guarding not being maintained, accumulation of combustible materials, improper chemical labelling, failing to maintain firefighting equipment and multiple compressed air violations.


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