“We have learned a lot of hard lessons since the explosion at Upper Big Branch mine,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “While a number of mine operators receiving impact inspections have taken positive steps to clean up their act, some have refused to take seriously their responsibility to protect their workers and change their ways. We can’t be at every mine every day, but when we have reason to believe that a particular mine operator is putting miners’ lives at risk, we will not sit back and wait for a disaster to happen.”

Throughout the course of the impact inspections, MSHA enforcement personnel employed a number of tactics at some mines to catch operators off guard, including late afternoon or evening arrivals at the mine site, driving unmarked government vehicles, and seizing mine phones to thwart communication between mining personnel working on the surface and those working underground.

“We are striving to make our inspections more strategic, less predictable and more effective,” said Main.

Inspectors issued nearly 200 withdrawal orders at mines resulting from unwarrantable failures to comply with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, as well as eight Section 107(a) withdrawal orders due to imminent dangers. Some mine operations actually fared worse during follow-up inspections. For example, CAM Mining’s Mine No. 28 in Pike County, Ky., received 42 citations and orders, with a “significant and substantial” rate of nearly 31% during its April inspection. In a July inspection, the operator received 73 citations and orders, with an S&S rate of nearly 44%. Wilcoal Mining’s Tri-State One mine in Claiborne County, Tenn., received 33 citations and orders, with an S&S rate of nearly 65% in April. In its July inspection, the operator was cited for 38 citations and orders, with an S&S rate of nearly 65%. As a result of 11 orders issued by MSHA, the mine was shut down.

MSHA initiated the new impact inspection program as the agency continues to work to reform the broken “pattern of violations” program.