MSHA warns 15 mining operations

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said Monday it has warned 15 mining operations, including five in Kentucky, to clean up their health and safety practices or face stricter enforcement.

The agency said the 13 coal mines, a dirt processing plant in California and a gold mine in Nevada have been cited repeatedly for "significant and substantial" violations that could have caused serious injuries or illnesses.

"Hopefully, these operations will use this opportunity to incorporate needed improvements into their safety and health programs," said Michael Davis, MSHA deputy assistant secretary for operations, in a statement.

The agency singled out Virginia-based James River Coal Co. about its Blue Diamond Coal Co.'s mine No. 77 in Kentucky.

A James River spokeswoman could not be reached immediately for comment.

The other Kentucky mines are Double A Mining Inc., No. 4; North Star Mining Inc., No. 5A; Rockhouse Energy Mining Co., No. 1; and Century Operations LLC, Butcher Branch Mine.

Other operations warned by the federal agency are two mines and a processing plant controlled by Virginia-based Massey Energy Co., the nation's fourth-largest coal producer by revenue.

Massey issued a statement noting that several of its operations have been warned in the past and that all were able to correct problems.

"As we have done before, Massey will review all documents upon which the potential pattern of violations was based, discuss the violations with the MSHA district manager and take corrective actions," the company said.

The mining operations cited by the agency are supposed to craft plans for reducing violations and will be monitored closely by health and safety inspectors for 90 days.

If they improve, MSHA said, they won't be listed as having a pattern of violations, which leads to greater scrutiny and tougher disciplinary action.

Among other things, the designation allows MSHA to interrupt production by ordering workers to leave a mine until a serious violation is corrected.

The agency has issued similar warnings to more than 40 U.S. mining operations since mid-2007, including 16 last June.

Those mines reduced their serious violation rates by an average of 74.81 percent, MSHA said.