Pike coal mine warned to reduce safety violation

bestep@herald-leader.comNovember 28, 2012 

Federal regulators have notified a Kentucky underground coal mine that it must reduce safety violations or it could face increased scrutiny and sanctions.

The Pike Floyd Mining Inc. No. 3 mine in Pike County was one of four mines put on notice that it has a potential pattern of violations of health and safety standards, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration announced Wednesday. Two of the other mines are in West Virginia, and one is in Louisiana.

In addition, MSHA notified D & C Mining Corp. that it will be subject to increased scrutiny if it resumes production at its mine in Harlan County. The federal government sued D & C in March to try to collect $2.1 million in unpaid penalties and interest for safety violations. The company did not respond to the lawsuit.

Federal law provides for increased enforcement at mines that have a pattern of significant violations putting miners at risk of death or injury. Before MSHA places a mine under that sanction, it notifies the operator that the mine has a potential pattern of violations.

The operator must then reduce the rate of violations at the mine or risk being designated as having a pattern of violations.

Advocates say the rule can be a powerful tool to increase safety, but MSHA had never placed a mine on pattern of violation status under the 1977 federal mine act until April 2011. That month, the agency placed the sanction on two mines — the Bledsoe Coal Corp.'s Abner Branch Rider Mine in Leslie County and the New West Virginia Mining Co.'s Apache Mine in McDowell County, W.Va.

Inspectors later shut down all or parts of the Abner Branch mine several times because of alleged violations.

MSHA put new screening procedures in place in 2010 to identify mines that could have a potential pattern of violations. MSHA looks at issues such as high numbers of serious safety violations, high injury rates and failure to correct safety problems.

MSHA chief Joseph Main said in a news release that steps such as increased consideration of whether mines have a potential pattern of violations, as well as special "impact inspections" the agency started doing in 2010 after a mine explosion in West Virginia killed 29 men, are making mines safer.

"The number of chronic violators meeting improved screening criteria has substantially dropped since we began implementing these criteria in 2010," Main said.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1

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