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MSHA News Release No. 95-026
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: (703) 235-1452

July 6, 1995

MSHA CONCLUDES MULTIPLE VIOLATIONS CAUSED KENTUCKY MINE DEATHS

A report released today by the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) concludes that multiple violations of Federal mine safety standards led to the coal mine explosion that killed two men last year at the Day Branch Coal Co., Inc., in Harlan County, Ky.

"Some of the most basic practices for mining coal safety were apparently ignored in this case, which contributed to a tragic loss of life," said J. Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

Otis Henry, 39, a roof bolter operator, and Norman Daniels, 37, a scoop operator, were killed when an explosion occurred at the No. 9 Mine of Day Branch Coal Co., Inc., on May 11, 1994.

MSHA investigators determined that a methane and coal dust explosion occurred on the first Right Panel off the Number 5 Drive Main entries of the Day Branch mine at approximately 3:00 p.m. Investigators found that the 1st Right Panel was not examined or properly ventilated of explosive and flammable gases as required by law. Permanent ventilation controls were purposely removed prior to the explosion, an action that short- circuited the ventilating air current and allowed methane to accumulate the ventilating air current and allowed methane to accumulate into the explosive range.

Investigators concluded that the explosive methane-air mixture was ignited in the No. 3 entry between the 13th and 14th crosscuts of the 1st Right Panel. After examining other equipment in the area of the explosion, investigators determined that the most likely source of ignition was the open flame of a cigarette lighter or match.

MSHA cited both Day Branch Coal Co., Inc., and its operator, Bobby Joe Hensley, for the following violations which directly contributed to the cause of the explosion:

-- Ventilation controls were intentionally removed in three locations in the mine in violation of the approved ventilation plan for the mine (3 violations);

-- A required supplemental examination was not conducted in the left Right Panel prior to miners entering the work area;

-- Required weekly examinations for hazardous conditions including measurements for methane and oxygen as well as air current flow were not taken to the deepest point in the first right panel;

-- The mine operator did non insure that persons entering the underground areas of the mine were not carrying smoking materials (cigarette materials were found in seven locations underground and the mine operator conducted inadequate searches for smoking materials on miners entering the mine);

-- The incombustible content of the mine dust in the entries and crosscuts of the 1st Right Panel was inadequate; and

-- Air current volume and velocity was not maintained sufficiently to dilute and carry away explosive gases.

"This fatal accident most certainly could have been avoided if there had been a basic effort made to comply with well-known regulations for safe mining," McAteer continued.

During the past year, MSHA conducted special enforcement efforts aimed at preventing explosions in coal mines which included concentrated spot inspections to check for compliance with laws that prohibit taking smoking materials in underground coal mines. MSHA also conducted special focus inspections for compliance with laws requiring proper maintenance of areas in underground mines that are worked-out, idle, and where mining equipment was being moved.

"We need to learn from each accident and use its lessons to prevent the next," McAteer said.

The violations cited in the Day Branch mine explosion, for which fines have yet to be assessed, carry a maximum civil penalty of $50,000 each.

A copy of the complete accident report is available from the source listed at the top of this News Release.