The U.S. Department of Labor announced that its Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) completed impact inspections at 15 mines in 12 states in July 2023, issuing 288 violations and four safeguard notices. MSHA began impact inspections after an explosion killed 29 miners at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine in 2010.
So far in 2023, MSHA’s impact inspections have identified 1,723 violations, including 493 significant and substantial (S&S) and 23 unwarrantable failure findings. An S&S violation is one reasonably likely to cause a reasonably serious injury or illness. Violations designated as unwarrantable failures occur when an inspector finds aggravated conduct that constitutes more than ordinary negligence.
The agency conducts impact inspections at mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to poor compliance history; previous accidents, injuries, and illnesses; and other compliance concerns. Among the 288 violations MSHA found in July, the agency evaluated 82 as S&S and found one to have an unwarrantable failure finding.
The agency completed these inspections at mines in Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The agency inspected operations by Buzzi Unicem, Taiheiyo Cement Corp., CK Meadows and Northern Filter Media Plant & Dredge, among others.
“In the last 10 years, more than 20 miners and contractors have been fatally injured and more than 1,000 have been disabled or lost time from work in fall-from-height accidents. The Mine Safety and Health Administration continues to see fall from height accidents and issue imminent danger orders due to miners lacking fall protection,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “MSHA is troubled that this month’s impact inspections included citations for hazards the agency has previously highlighted in safety and health alerts, such as fall accidents and hazardous chemicals.”
The details of an inspection conducted in July demonstrates some of the hazards miners face.
From July 17 to 18, 2023, MSHA conducted an impact inspection at Buzzi Unicem USA’s Lone Star Pryor Plant Mill and Quarry in Mayes, Okla. Selected given its previous enforcement history, the mine’s operator was cited for 53 violations. Among them, 25 were S&S violations. Specifically, agency inspectors found Buzzi Unicem USA’s violations included the following:
- Failure to perform adequate workplace examinations. Proper examinations reduce the risks of fatal mine accidents and disabling injuries. During inspections, MSHA places a priority on improving workplace examinations including the identification, correction and documentation of hazardous conditions to ensure miners’ safety and health.
- Permitting 23 housekeeping hazards, such as those related to slip, trip and falls; 21 of which were designated as S&S. Since 2017, housekeeping issues are the most common violation found at this mine. Recently, the agency issued a safety alert on fall accidents.
- Exposing miners to hazards related to energized electrical conductors, accumulated combustible materials and improperly maintained firefighting equipment. The mine has been cited in the past for allowing exposed electrical conductors and for permitting waste or rags with flammable or combustible liquids to create a fire hazard.
- Failures to install and maintain guards, provide a safe means of access to work areas, store materials properly, identify chemicals in use with proper labels and to maintain compressed air systems as required. MSHA had found the mine operator allowing many of these conditions to exist before the July impact inspection. Earlier this year, the agency issued a hazard alert related to hazardous chemicals and continues to raise awareness about this issue.