Federal inspectors issued nearly 600 citations for safety violations found at 30 problem mining operations across the country in September, the Mine Safety and Health Administration said Tuesday.
The violations turned up during an inspection blitz begun after the deaths of 29 miners at Massey Energy Co.'s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia on April 5. Four other Massey mines were among 30 around the country that MSHA selected for extra inspections in September.
Inspectors found the violations during inspections targeting 30 troubled mining operations in 17 states stretching from Connecticut to California and Florida to Idaho.
"We are beginning to see signs of improvement at some mines, an indication that these impact inspections are making a difference," MSHA director Joe Main said. "Some continue to violate standards and place miners at risk."
Among those are Massey, Main said. "While some operators are finally getting the message, others are not."
A Sept. 28 inspection uncovered serious safety violations at Richmond, Va.-based Massey's Seng Creek Powellton Mine, about 40 miles south of Charleston. Among other things, a foreman acknowledged skipping mandatory tests for explosive gases.
MSHA said it also cited Massey's Marsh Fork Mine in West Virginia and its Freedom Energy No. 1 and Triumph mines in Kentucky for serious violations in September.
"With over 7,000 trained members, some still make errors in judgment," Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater said. Massey refers to employees as members. The company plans to idle its underground mines Oct. 29 to discuss safety with its employees and to stress that safety is more important than production. Massey runs mines in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.
A majority of the violations _ 331 of them _ involved coal mines. Another 232 were issued to metal and nonmetal mines, a category that includes quarries and cement plants, among other things. Besides West Virginia and Kentucky, MSHA cited coal mines in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, Utah and Alabama. The remaining citations were issued in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Tennessee, Florida, Montana, Wyoming, California, Nevada, Idaho, Iowa and Wisconsin.
(Corrects number of states to 17 instead of 15 in the 3rd paragraph.)