Federal inspectors ordered evacuations at two Eastern Kentucky mines last month

Federal inspectors ordered employees withdrawn from two underground coal mines in Eastern Kentucky last month because of alleged dangerous conditions, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration announced Tuesday.

At the Abner Branch Rider Mine in Leslie County, inspectors found several conditions that exposed miners to potential roof falls, fires or explosions, according to the news release.

The mine operator failed to do a proper pre-shift examination to look for potential problems, MSHA said in the release.

"There is no excuse for miners to be exposed to these conditions when a pre-shift inspection would have identified the hazards," MSHA chief Joseph A. Main said in the release.

The mine is operated by Bledsoe Coal Corp. This year, it became one of two mines MSHA had succeeded in placing on a pattern of violations status, based on repeated significant violations of federal health and safety standards.

MSHA inspectors have issued 34 orders since April for miners to pull out of all or parts of the mine because of alleged unsafe conditions. Federal inspectors also issued several citations last month at the Viper Coal LLC Mine No. 7 in Pike County for alleged unwarrantable failure to follow health and safety rules.

The problems included that the mine operator was not following the proper ventilation plan, which resulted in a drastic reduction in the airflow in the mine, according to the news release.

Inspectors went to the mines as part of MSHA's "impact inspection" program. The agency started the program last year to give more attention to mines with poor compliance histories or other problems, such as a high number of accidents.

Inspectors have issued more than 6,300 citations since April 2010 during such inspections at coal and non-coal mines across the country.