MSHA missed inspections before Mingo mine fatality
Charleston Gazette - WV, USA
.September 5, 2007
A Mingo County coal mine where a worker was killed Monday had not yet received a complete inspection this year by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, government records show.
MSHA inspectors had not finished — or even started — a full examination of CONSOL Energy’s Bronzite Mine, the records show.
Under federal law, MSHA is supposed to conduct regular, complete inspections of all underground coal mines nationwide once per calendar quarter.
MSHA conducted three “spot inspections” of the operation in March, June and August. But those reviews involved half the inspection time of a typical complete review, records show.
Agency officials could not immediately explain the lapse, and CONSOL Energy declined to comment on it.
“That’s a question for the regulators,” said Joe Cerenzia, a spokesman for Pittsburgh-based CONSOL.
Wednesday’s roof fall at the Bronzite Mine near Nolan was the fourth coal-mining death in West Virginia this year, and the 24th nationwide, according to MSHA’s official count.
Utah leads the nation with nine coal-mining deaths. That figure includes three rescue workers and six miners from the collapse at the Crandall Canyon mine, who were added to MSHA’s count during the Labor Day weekend.
Nationwide, 71 coal miners have died on the job since the Sago Mine disaster, which came two days after the coal industry ended 2005 by marking its safest year ever with 22 deaths.
During a speech Aug. 23 to the Utah Mining Association, CONSOL President J. Brett Harvey called on the coal industry to drive accident rates to zero at every mine in the nation.
“We need to change the paradigm and we need to change it now,” Harvey said during the speech in Park City, Utah. “What industry must change is our incremental approach to safety improvement because it creates an unintended tolerance to accidents. We need to get to zero.”
Over the last year, MSHA has struggled to hire new inspectors to rebuild a work force that was severely cut during President Bush’s first term. But last year, the agency fell further behind on its duty to inspect all underground mines four times and surface mines twice per year. Required inspections not completed on time increased from 43 during the 2005 federal budget year to 245 in 2006, MSHA data shows. The completion rate was 95 percent, down from 99 percent in 2005.
At the Bronzite Mine incident in Mingo County, 35-year-old Brent Reynolds of Virgie, Ky., was operating a continuous mining machine at about 5 p.m. Monday when a roof fall occurred, said C.A. Phillips, deputy director of the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training.
Cerenzia said that Reynolds was working under roof supports, but that the roof fell back away from the face toward him.
“There was just some occurrence that caused that roof to move back in his direction,” Cerenzia said.
Reynolds was pronounced dead at 6:18 p.m. at Williamson Memorial Hospital, Cerenzia said.
The Bronzite Mine started producing coal in 2004 under a CONSOL contractor, North Star Contracting, operated by Harold Porter of Debord, Ky., and Carl Kirk of Catlettsburg, Ky.
Last year, the mine produced 276,000 tons of coal with 37 employees, according to MSHA records. In August 2006, CONSOL took over the operation from North Star, and operated it under its subsidiary, CONSOL of Kentucky, records show.
In 2004 and 2005, the mine recorded a nonfatal injury rate that was more than four times worse than the national average. Last year, the record improved. But the injury rate was still 1 1/2 times the national average, MSHA data show.
Since October 2004, the operation has been fined nearly $16,000 for more than 140 safety violations.
More than $9,500 in fines accumulated over that period are listed as delinquent for violations issued during North Star’s time operating the mine, according to MSHA records.