coal mineDecember impact inspections by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) found one of the lowest number of violations to date, but Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health said: "We still see some mines that fail to address recurring problems that put miners at risk."

Inspectors observed visible dust

Some of those “recurring problems” were found at Dorchester Enterprises Inc., Mine No. 4 in Wise County, Va. MSHA cited violations concerning ventilation practices and conditions, as well as accumulation of combustible material. A total of 13 citations and five orders were issued, nine cited on the surface and nine underground. Two unwarrantable failure orders were issued for the mine operator failing to follow the approved ventilation plan on the active mechanized mining units. The inspection team observed visible dust overriding the machine scrubber system and rolling across the top of the continuous mining machine and shuttle car operator. Air readings taken by inspectors indicated increased potential for ignitions in the mine as well as for injuries and illnesses to miners. The mine operator has been cited 35 times in the past two years for failure to follow the approved ventilation plan.

This impact inspection was the second at Mine No. 4; 10 citations were issued during the previous impact inspection in February 2011.

Fall hazards - into a sulfide solution pool

Asarco LLC, Ray Mine, a large surface copper ore mine in Gila County, Arizona, has been cited 26 times in the past two years for equipment safety defects that exposed miners to hazards and were not repaired in a timely manner. Additional citations were issued for for openings in railings that exposed miners to fall hazards of approximately 100 feet in one area, and a separate area that exposed miners to fall hazards of more than 8 feet into a sulfide solution pond. Another citation was issued for fall hazards of more than 20 feet that were not immediately apparent to miners and not properly identified with barricades and/or warning signs. Two citations were issued for not providing automatic backup alarms on a welding truck and a skid loader to warn miners in the area of the vehicles' movement.

This impact inspection was the second at the mine, which employs 783 miners; 46 citations were issued during the previous impact inspection in April 2011.

Federal inspectors issued 150 citations and nine orders during special impact inspections conducted at eight coal mines and three metal/nonmetal mines last month.

Mines that merit increased attention

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. 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.