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MSHA Releases Report Into Death of Two Killed in 2011 Ohio County Mine Accident

Last year, 21 coal miners died in mining accidents, and eight of them were in Kentucky. I’ve reported on many of these deaths on our website and on the air, but most only after the fact. Two of these mine deaths—the deaths of 47-year-old Darrel Alan Winstead and Samual Joe Lindsey, 23—in a roof fall at an Ohio County mine were reported nearly real-time, as rescuers worked to uncover the men. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration released its report into the deaths today.

Winstead and Lindsey were blasters employed by the Mine Equipment and Mill Supply Company, or Memsco. They were working at the Equality Mine, a surface mine owned by Armstrong Coal Company. It was their job to place explosives and detonate them to uncover coal seams, but early in the morning of October 28, 2011, a wall in the mine collapsed and buried the two men in their truck.

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MSHA Targets 43 Former Massey Mines in Huge Inspection Blitz

The Mine Safety and Health Administration targeted 43 mines formerly owned by Massey Energy for surprise inspections this week, as NPR’s Howard Berkes reports. The mines, in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, are all now owned by Alpha Natural Resources.

Berkes reports that the inspection blitz was prompted by a recent incident at an Alpha mine in Wyoming County, WV.

A source familiar with the inspections says they were focused on conveyor belts used to transport coal underground. The source is not authorized to discuss the inspections publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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Mine Operators Continue to Give Advance Warning of Inspections, Despite Heightened Enforcement

As the two-year anniversary nears of the deadliest coal mine disaster in recent history, the Mine Safety and Health Administration is still trying to address some of the explosion’s root causes. One of the biggest impediments for federal inspectors is mine operators who break the law and give advance notice of inspections.

When inspectors arrive at a coal mine, the first thing they do is try to capture the mine’s communication systems. If workers outside can get word of the impending inspection to miners underground, that gives the miners time to fix some unsafe conditions and avoid citations.

This is illegal. But according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, it’s still happening far too often.

“The impact of that is that conditions are changed before we’re able to get to inspect them,” says MSHA head Joe Main. “And it has to do with hiding conditions that miners are normally exposed to that could put them in harm’s way that we’re not being able to find.”

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MSHA Cites Six Kentucky Surface Mines in February Impact Inspections

The federal government has released data from last month’s impact inspections of coal mines.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration began conducting surprise inspections of coal mines nearly two years ago, after 29 workers were killed in a West Virginia coal mine explosion. That mine was underground, and many of MSHA’s impact inspections have focused on finding similar unsafe conditions in underground mines.

But after a rash of fatalities at surface mines, MSHA made a point of including more of them in last month’s impact inspection. It inspected six Kentucky surface mines, and found serious problems at all of them. Assistant Secretary of Labor Joe Main says there are still signs that operators are continuing to give advance notice of the inspections to miners, which is illegal.

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MSHA Cites Four Kentucky Mines in January Impact Inspections

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has cited four Kentucky coal mines for safety violations. The mines were among 16 nationwide with a history of compliance problems targeted in MSHA’s special impact inspections.

The mines cited were Exel Mining’s Van Lear Mine in Martin County, Perry County Coal’s E4-1 Mine and two Harlan County mines owned by K and D Mining and D&C Mining Corporation.

MSHA singled out two of those mines as examples of egregious safety violations. At the Perry County mine, inspectors found ventilation problems, which could expose miners to the risk of black lung disease or a potential explosion. The mine operator also didn’t maintain the primary and secondary escape, so miners could have become trapped in an emergency.

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MSHA Finishes Upper Big Branch Investigation, Blames Massey Safety Lapses

The federal government has finished its investigation into last year’s fatal explosion at a West Virginia coal mine. The Mine Safety and Health Administration has imposed record penalties and is standing behind previous statements that the accident was preventable.

As soon as one day after the explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine, MSHA’s Kevin Stricklin told reporters that the deaths of the 29 miners killed could have been prevented. Stricklin echoed the sentiment in the agency’s presentation of its 20-month investigation into the disaster.

“Basically, we stand by the first statement we made on April the fifth that 29 miners’ deaths were preventable,” he said. “We still feel that way. Massey management engaged in practices and procedures that resulted in non-compliance with the Mine Act and regulations.”

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Miner Killed in Letcher County Accident

A coal miner has been killed in an equipment accident in Letcher County. The accident was at the Hubble Mining Company’s Number 9 mine at Eolia in Letcher County, and 47-year-old Jerry Britton of Pound, Virginia was killed when he was hit by a personnel carrier.

Since Hubble Mining Company took over the mine in August of 2010, the facility has been cited nearly 60 times by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. One-third of those violations were categorized as “significant and substantial” by the agency, which means there’s a reasonable likelihood the violation will result in injury or death. 

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Local News

Chief White to Leave Louisville, Two Workers Killed in Ohio County Mine Accident, Larger Voter Turnout Projected in Louisville Than Kentucky’s Average: Afternoon Review

In case you missed them, here are some of the stories we’ve covered today.

Current Chief Robert White has announced he’s leaving Louisville to become chief of the Denver Police Department. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer says he’s begun the process of finding candidates to be the next chief of police.

Two workers were killed after they and their truck were trapped under rubble at an Ohio County, Kentucky surface mine. The Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration will investigate the accident.

And the Jefferson County Clerk’s office is projecting a larger turnout in Louisville than in the rest of the Commonwealth this Election Day.

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Men Trapped in Ohio County Mine Accident Worked for Company With Previous Violations

The two men trapped under rubble at an Ohio County surface mine have been identified as blasters at a company called MEMSCO, which also does business as the Mine Equipment and Mill Supply Company. MEMSCO has an office in Dawson Spring, Kentucky, but is owned by Midland Powder Company in Evansville, Indiana.

According to federal mine inspection records, the Mine Equipment and Mill Supply Company was cited by the Mine Safety and Health Administration as recently as July for a “significant and substantial” violation. The violation stemmed from the operation of the company’s loading and haulage equipment.

The company has been cited nearly 50 times in the past two years for work at other coal mines and quarries. Twenty-one of those violations were categorized as “significant and substantial” by MSHA.

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Inspectors Continue to Discover Problems at Harlan County Mine

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has cited three Kentucky coal mines for safety violations. They were among 20 nationwide with a history of compliance problems targeted in MSHA’s special impact inspections.

The mines cited were Vision Coal’s Mine #2 in Letcher County, and two Harlan County mines: D&C Mining Corporation’s mine and Linsco Energy LLC’s Mine No. 1.

The citations at D&C’s mine included an imminent danger order. Inspectors found a cigarette lighter next to the continuous mining machine, which could ignite loose coal dust and cause an explosion. Smoking materials were also found in the mine during an inspection last February.

MSHA conducts impact inspections at mines with a history of compliance problems. D&C’s mine has had six impact inspections since the agency began the practice after the April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine.