WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor today announced that monthly impact inspections by its Mine Safety and Health Administration at 16 mines in 12 states in March 2023 have identified 205 violations, including 52 significant and substantial findings.
Impact inspections are done at mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement related to poor compliance history; previous accidents, injuries, and illnesses; and other compliance concerns.
MSHA conducted its monthly impact inspections in March 2023 at mines in Alabama, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Indiana Minnesota, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, and West Virginia. In the first three months of 2023, the agency’s inspections identified 579 violations, including 165 significant and substantial and 13 unwarrantable failure findings. A significant and substantial violation is one that is reasonably likely to cause a reasonably serious injury or illness.
“The Mine Safety and Health Administration remains focused on identifying conditions that can lead to serious accidents and put miners at increased risk of developing entirely preventable occupational illnesses,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “Impact inspections are an important enforcement tool that we will continue to use to protect miners’ safety and health.”
A March 2023 impact inspection at an underground coal mine in Kentucky’s Harlan County offers an example of the potential hazards miners face. MSHA conducted a health impact inspection on March 21 at INMET Mining’s D-21 Mine in Cumberland, where the mine operator has a history of silica overexposures. About 20 times more toxic than coal dust alone, high levels of silica exposure increase miners’ risk of developing debilitating and potentially deadly occupational illnesses, such as silicosis, black lung disease and cancer.
MSHA inspectors issued 20 citations at INMET’s D-21 Mine for violations of various safety and health standards, including 11 significant and substantial findings. The inspection found the operator failed to follow federally approved mine ventilation and roof-control plans and did not provide miners with a safe and healthy workplace. Specifically, the agency cited the mine operator for the following conditions:
- Inoperable and missing water sprays.
- Cutting bits on continuous mining machines not maintained properly.
- A miner working in visible coal dust.
- A filter housing saturated with white dust and an improper dust collector hose on a roof bolting machine.
- An insufficient quantity of air behind the curtain at the working face during the mining process.
Ensuring proper ventilation as required by an MSHA-approved ventilation plan, as well as functioning water sprays and dust control equipment significantly reduce potential explosion and respirable dust hazards. Specifically, ventilation curtains and water sprays are important tools to protect miners from overexposures to respirable coal dust and silica, which are principal causes of preventable life-threatening lung diseases plaguing far too many miners.
During the impact inspection, inspectors also found several violations of the approved roof control plan. MSHA cited the operator for not posting a visible warning for an unsupported crosscut at the end of permanent roof support, inadequately supporting the mine roof in a travel way, not replacing damaged roof support posts, and allowing a crack in the mine’s roof to remain unsupported.
A sound roof control plan is essential for controlling the roof, face and ribs, including coal or rock bursts in underground coal mines. An unsupported roof can cause collapses, leading to a fatality or serious injury to miners. By not posting a visible warning for an unsupported crosscut, the operator put miners in danger of walking inadvertently into an unsupported area that could collapse.
MSHA first began impact inspections in April 2010 after an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia killed 29 miners. Read MSHA’s impact inspections findings.