Feds Warn 16 Mining Companies over Safety Issues

By | June 23, 2008

Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration officials said they told 16 U.S. mining companies they have patterns of violating health and safety rules and warned them to clean up their acts or face heightened enforcement.

All but two of the companies operate coal mines or processing plants, the majority of them in Kentucky and West Virginia, MSHA said. Also receiving warnings were a Kentucky limestone operation and a Michigan iron ore mine.

“Repeated safety and health violations by mine operators will not be tolerated,” MSHA Director Richard Stickler said in a statement.

This is the third time in the past year that MSHA singled out mines with patterns of serious violations.

Seven of eight operations notified in June 2007 reduced their serious violation rate by an average of 50 percent within months, according to MSHA. The eighth closed.

Another 20 operations targeted in December 2007 cut their violation rates an average of 65 percent, MSHA said.

But companies with mines targeted previously by MSHA own two mines on the latest list.

A spokesman for one of them, Massey Energy Co., said the company expects to fix problems at its Rockhouse Energy Mining Co.’s mine No. 1 in eastern Kentucky. Richmond, Va.-based Massey is the nation’s fourth-largest producer by revenue and operates mines in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.

“On the other potential pattern of violations that we’ve gotten in the past, we’ve worked through those issues,” spokesman Jeff Gillenwater said. “We’ll work with MSHA to go through any of their concerns. We’ll definitely take any corrective actions.”

Richmond, Va.-based James River Coal Co. did not immediately return a request for comment. Its Blue Diamond Coal Co.’s No. 75 mine in Kentucky is among the latest operations targeted by MSHA. James River also operates mines in southern Indiana.

A third large operator with a mine on the list, Tulsa, Okla.-based Alliance Resource Partners, did not respond immediately to a request for comment. MSHA is targeting a Kentucky mine operated by the company’s Excel Mining subsidiary.

Mines on the latest list were picked by the number of violations that could lead to serious injury or illness during the past two years. Mines on the list must review and comment on the violations and develop plans for correcting problems.

If a mine significantly reduces the rate of significant and substantial violations during an ensuing 90-day monitoring period, MSHA says the operator will not receive a notification of a pattern of violations.

MSHA can temporarily halt work at mines that don’t reduce the number of serious violations.

The federal action comes as coal mining fatalities are increasing in the U.S. As of June 16, 15 coal miners had died in 2008, compared with six by the same time last year.

The trend prompted MSHA, the National Mining Association, the Bituminous Coal Operators’ Association and United Mine Workers to send a safety letter to mine operators, miners and contractors on June 19.

“With a joint effort by all to refocus on safety a repeat of these accidents could be prevented,” the letter said. “We are urging everyone to maintain a focus on safety by trying to anticipate hazards and, most importantly, thinking before acting and avoiding shortcuts.”
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U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration: http://www.msha.gov/

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