- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

CHARLESTON, W.VA. (AP) - The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said Monday it has warned 15 mining operations to clean up their health and safety practices or face stricter enforcement.

The agency said the 13 coal mines, a dirt processing plant and a gold mine have been cited repeatedly for “significant and substantial” violations that could have caused serious injuries or illnesses.

“Hopefully, these operations will use this opportunity to incorporate needed improvements into their safety and health programs,” said Michael Davis, MSHA deputy assistant secretary for operations, in a statement.

Those mining operations are supposed to craft plans for reducing violations and will be monitored closely by health and safety inspectors for 90 days. If they improve, MSHA said they won’t be listed as having a pattern of violations, which leads to greater scrutiny and tougher disciplinary action.

Among other things, the designation allows MSHA to interrupt production by ordering workers to leave a mine until a serious violation is corrected.

The agency has issued similar warnings to more than 40 U.S. mining operations since mid-2007, including 16 last June. Those mines reduced their serious violation rates, MSHA said.

Among the operations warned are two mines and a processing plant controlled by Richmond, Va.-based Massey Energy Co., the nation’s fourth-largest coal producer by revenue.

Massey issued a statement noting that several of its operations have been warned in the past and all were able to correct problems. “As we have done before, Massey will review all documents upon which the potential pattern of violations was based, discuss the violations with the MSHA District Manager, and take corrective actions,” the company said.

The agency also singled out Richmond, Va.-based James River Coal Co. about its Blue Diamond Coal Co.’s mine No. 77. A James River spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hidden Splendor Resources Inc. has been cited hundreds of times a year for violations at the Horizon mine 11 miles west of Helper, Utah, according to MSHA.

“We have had problems with the mine and are taking measures to improve things,” said Dan Baker, chief executive of Salt Lake City-based America West Resources Inc., the parent company of Hidden Splendor.

The problems were largely solved Saturday when the company closed a section of the mine that had 18 cave-ins over the past two years, Baker said. He said nobody got hurt by the roof falls.

Horizon, Utah’s smallest coal mine, also has reduced its injury rate, from double the national average in 2007 to half the industry rate, said Joe Fielder, manager of the mine.

Even though Horizon has reduced the risks, it was warned by MSHA based on mining conditions over the past two years, they said.

Five of the mines are located in Kentucky, four in West Virginia and three in Virginia. The agency also warned the dirt processing plant in California and a Nevada gold mine.

___

Associated Press writer Paul Foy in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

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