In an effort to make sure the conditions found during the surprise inspections were not tampered with, MSHA inspectors assumed control of company phone lines at two of the three mines to prevent mine employees from alerting their colleagues underground that MSHA inspectors were on site.
On March 24, 2010, MSHA received an anonymous hazard complaint reporting the Road Fork No. 51 mine was running two continuous miners on a single split of air. The complaint also alleged the operation was mining into the coal face deeper than its approved plan allowed and had experienced several face methane ignitions that were not reported to MSHA. As a result of the complaint and MSHA’s surprise inspection tactics, the company was caught violating several mine standards. Eight 104(d)(2) withdrawal orders were issued for the mine’s failure to maintain the minimum air quantity ventilation requirements, accumulation of combustible materials and roof control violations. In one instance, the operator failed to follow the approved roof control plan by illegally mining 8 feet beyond the allowable depth of 20 ft.
Also on March 24, 2010, MSHA received an anonymous complaint about hazardous conditions at Randolph mine just days after a small fire occurred there. Mine inspectors found the mine operator was not providing adequate ventilation. The practices were similar to those found at Road Fork No. 51 mine; the operator was also caught taking illegal deep cuts into the coal. Nine 104(d)(2) withdrawal orders were issued for a variety of hazards including inadequate ventilation. Inspectors found that there was no air movement in some sections caused by line curtains being rolled up for a distance of 60 ft.
There were also inadequate on-shift examinations as well as obvious and extensive accumulation of loose coal up to 20 inches deep. The section foreman was observed operating the continuous mining machine with the ventilation line curtain 29 ft from the working face where the plan required a maximum of 20 ft. Rock dust had not been applied in seven entries to the required 40-ft distance. Miners were withdrawn from the affected area while the violations were being abated.
On April 9, 2010, following the tragic explosion at Upper Big Branch mine, MSHA received a hazard complaint about Independence Coal’s Cook mine regarding water in the escapeway. Upon inspection of the mine, six 104(d)(1) orders were issued for taking illegal deep cuts of 30 ft into the coal face when the plan allowed a maximum of 20 ft, blockage of the primary escapeway with water, inadequate pre-shift and on-shift examinations, and excessive widths beyond the roof control plan parameters. MSHA inspectors also found that numerous roof bolts were sheared off and damaged, increasing the risk of hazardous roof falls.