Feds missed inspections at Logan mine
Charleston Gazette - WV, USA
By Ken Ward Jr.
September 18, 2007
Federal regulators missed required inspections during the past two quarters at a Logan County mine where a worker was killed Sunday, government records show.
U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors had not conducted a complete review of the Mountaineer II Mine since March, agency records show.
Under federal law, MSHA is required to conduct a complete inspection of every underground coal mine once per quarter.
Federal officials had conducted numerous “spot inspections” at the Arch Coal Inc. operation. Such reviews generally aren’t as thorough as the required quarterly inspections, experts say.
The Mountaineer II Mine accident is the second time this month that a West Virginia miner was killed in an operation where MSHA missed required inspections.
Around 7 a.m. Sunday, construction worker Robert D. Fraley was killed when he fell about 350 feet down an airshaft being built at the Mountaineer II Mine, state and federal mine safety officials said.
Fraley, 53, of Dorothy, worked for Coalfield Services Inc., a Wytheville, Va., contractor that was helping with the shaft construction, according to a John Snider, a spokesman for Arch Coal.
The Mountaineer II Mine is part of Arch Coal’s new Mountain Laurel Complex near Sharples. St. Louis-based Arch Coal operates the facility through its nonunion arm, Mingo Logan Coal Co.
Arch has been gearing up production at Mountaineer, as it prepared for the start-up of an advanced longwall mining machine.
Through the first six months of 2007, the mine produced 500,000 tons of coal with 216 workers, according to MSHA data.
Sunday’s accident was the second fatal shaft-construction accident nationwide in the last six weeks.
Nationwide, shaft construction work has consistently reported accident rates worse — sometimes more than twice as high — as other coal-mining work, according to MSHA.
In Sunday’s accident at Mountaineer II, Fraley was assisting in preparing a cement floor with a grinder to install an automatic closing door between two ventilation fans, the MSHA report said. A co-worker saw Fraley standing next to a railing that separated their work area from the airshaft, the report said. About five minutes later, Fraley was gone. The co-worker reported him missing, and his body was found at the bottom of the shaft at about 8:20 a.m.
“The railing separating the work area from the air shaft was four feet high and extended across the fan house from wall to wall,” the MSHA report said. “The railing was located eight feet from the mine opening. No work was scheduled on the airshaft side of the protective railing.”
So far in 2007, MSHA officials have conducted eight special inspections focused on shaft construction at Mountaineer II.
Those reviews involved a median of 10 hours per inspection, compared to the 77-hour median time MSHA inspectors spent on complete mine inspections at the operation, records show.
MSHA’s last complete, quarterly inspection started in mid-January and took more than 90 hours of work through March 28, agency records show.
Since then, MSHA inspectors have also visited the mine 14 times on special spot inspections aimed at operations that liberate large amounts of explosive methane. Those inspections involved a median of eight hours per inspection, agency records show.
Federal inspectors conducted one more lengthy spot inspection of the mine that involved 107 hours of work between June 4 and June 27, MSHA records show.
But since that complete inspection that ended March 28, federal officials have not started a regular, quarterly review at the mine.
MSHA officials at agency headquarters in Arlington, Va., could not immediately explain the inspection oversight at Mountaineer II.
Two weeks ago, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., blasted MSHA after reading a Gazette report about the agency’s failure to conduct a complete inspection yet this year of CONSOL Energy’s Bronzite Mine in Mingo County, where a worker died in a Sept. 3 roof fall.
“I’m absolutely flabbergasted — flabbergasted,” Byrd told MSHA chief Richard Stickler. “I’m at a loss.
“How can we have any faith that things at MSHA are improving if you’re not even fulfilling these basic inspection responsibilities?”
Stickler said that his staff had told him that MSHA conducted “enhanced spot inspections” each quarter at the CONSOL mine.
“They were not referred to as full regular inspections, because they did not cover every area of the mine, but they went beyond the normal spot inspections,” Stickler told Byrd.
Byrd asked Davitt McAteer, who ran MSHA during the Clinton administration, to comment on Stickler’s response.
“Spot inspections were to be conducted or are to be conducted in an effort to pinpoint and to determine if there are particular types of problems,” McAteer said. “But the statute mandates from the 1969 act that you worked so hard to pass that the mines be inspected four times a year in their entirety.”