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MSHA surprise inspection finds coal burning near explosives

December impact inspections yield hundreds of citations

January 30, 2012
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coal mineMine Safety and Health Administration personnel conducting a special impact inspection at a Kentucky coal mine found more than they expected. After securing the phones and entering Coal Creek Mining LLC's No. 2 Mine in Floyd County, the MSHA team found a coal pile, five feet high and ten feet in diameter, on fire, and approximately 23 feet from an explosives storage magazine outside the mine.

Additionally, the storage magazine, which contained two cases of explosives, had not been secured against unauthorized entry. A clearly identified key was lying on top of the magazine. Furthermore, a 5-gallon oil bucket full of burning coal and other materials was discovered near the intake portals of the mine.

Other violations include allowing accumulations of loose coal (up to 30 inches in depth) beneath conveyor belts and drives as well as in the presence of ignition sources such as drive rollers and bottom belt rollers. Inadequate rock dusting was found at several locations in the mine. The operator also allowed the accumulation of float coal dust on top of previously rock-dusted surfaces throughout the belt entry and adjacent crosscuts. Float coal dust was present on the mine floor, roof and ribs, as well as on the conveyor belt structure and mining equipment.

An unwarrantable failure order was issued for failing to follow the approved ventilation plan that required the operator to keep roadways in the mine damp to suppress dust. Fine, powdery dust 24 inches deep was present along the entire length of the main roadway entry and section-haulage road entries.

More unwarrantable failure orders were issued for inadequate workplace hazard examinations, including on-shift conveyor belt examinations, weekly return air course examinations and weekly electrical equipment examinations. Following the December impact inspection, the operator was issued two 104(b) orders for failing to completely correct and abate hazards within the required time frame.

The most recent inspection resulted in 32 citations and 12 orders, which subsequently shut down the mine.

Actions against Coal Creek Mining were among the 321 citations and orders resulting from special impact inspections conducted at ten coalmines and three metal/nonmetal mines last month. The coal mines were issued 174 citations and 19 orders, while the metal/nonmetal operations were issued 112 citations and 16 orders.

These 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, including 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; and adverse conditions such as increased methane liberation, faulty roof conditions and inadequate ventilation.

An impact inspection Dec. 16-23 at Hecla Limited's Lucky Friday Mine in Shoshone County, Idaho resulted in 59 citations and 15 orders to Hecla Ltd. and 22 citations to Cementation USA Inc., an independent contractor.

Among the violations cited was a repeated failure to maintain established ground support systems throughout the mine. In addition, ground support fixtures in several areas had not been installed or torqued properly; shafts had not been systematically inspected, tested and maintained, and steel structures in the shaft were not kept clean of hazardous materials; multiple areas of the mine had not been provided with two separate escapeways; explosives magazines had not been constructed and located to protect miners from the risk of unintended explosions; underground shop doors were improperly constructed to ensure fire protection; elevated walkways in multiple areas were not provided with substantially constructed handrails; and travel areas were not kept clean and orderly, resulting in slip, trip and fall hazards.

Two miners died at Lucky Friday Mine in 2011. In December, seven miners were trapped underground when a roof fall occurred, three of whom required hospitalization.

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