- 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 by an average of 74.81 percent, 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 its Horizon mine 11 miles west of Helper, Utah, according to MSHA.

Hidden Splendor is a subsidiary of Salt Lake City-based America West Resources Inc., whose chief executive, Dan Baker, didn’t return phone calls Monday from The Associated Press. An assistant said the company was preparing a response.

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.

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

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