Federal inspectors wrote hundreds of citations to Kentucky coal mines during a series of special inspections from April to August, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration announced Monday.
Some of the mines in Kentucky and other states targeted during the enforcement campaign had worse records on follow-up inspections, the agency said.
In April, for instance, inspectors issued 42 citations and orders after an inspection at CAM Mining LLC's No. 28 mine in Pike County, MSHA said in a news release.
In a follow-up inspection in July, inspectors hit the mine with 73 citations and orders, almost half of them for allegedly significant and substantial violations, MSHA said.
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MSHA started the series of "impact inspections" after an April explosion killed 29 workers at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch in West Virginia.
The agency said it conducted such inspections at 111 mines, coal and non-coal, around the country. More than a dozen of the mines were in Kentucky, most of them in the eastern coalfield.
They agency targeted mines based on criteria such as having a high number of violations in the past; a high number of accidents, injuries or illnesses; fatalities; and faulty roof conditions or inadequate ventilation.
MSHA inspectors used tactics during the inspections to try to keep coal operators from undermining their reviews, including inspecting during the evening, driving unmarked vehicles and taking control of phones at the mines.
Seizing the phones was aimed at making sure mine employees on the surface couldn't call underground to warn workers to stop improper practices or fix problems while inspectors traveled into the mine.
All told, federal inspectors issued more than 2,600 citations at the 111 mines inspected during the campaign, MSHA said.
"Clearly, there are still too many mine operators who have not learned the lessons of Upper Big Branch and continue to put miners' lives at risk," MSHA chief Joseph A. Main said in a news release. "They don't yet understand the value of safety in our nation's mines. That's got to change."
MSHA started the program of impact inspections because another program designed to spot operators with a pattern of violations — and put them under increased enforcement — wasn't working well, the agency said.
One reason is that coal companies started challenging citations at a much higher rate, slowing the process of finalizing them for purposes of establishing a pattern of violations under the program.
MSHA said last spring it would rewrite the rules of that program.
Main has said Massey used the approach of contesting citations to avoid being placed on notice of having a pattern of violations before the blast at its mine in April.
The mine had been cited repeatedly for ventilation problems before the blast, federal officials have said.