Mountain West mines hit with 83 safety violations in April as citations rise nationwide
The federal agency that oversees mine safety has reported a recent increase in the number of mine safety violations, including in the Mountain West.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued 335 violations in April to 20 mines across 15 states. That’s 130 more violations than in March, and those issued in April account for over a third of the totalmine safetyviolations issued since January. Ninety-two of the violations in April were “significant and substantial,” meaning they could cause a serious illness or injury.
Mines in the Mountain West accounted for 83 of April's violations, 17 of which were considered significant and substantial. The agency issued more than 40 to the Emery Coal Mine in Utah, 11 to the Stillwater Mine in Montana, and nine to the Tata Chemicals Mine in Wyoming. Two gold mines in Nevada and a copper mine in Arizona were also cited.
Some violations resulted from electrical hazards, training issues and not wearing protective equipment, according to Chris Williamson, MSHA's assistant secretary.
Williamson said the Tata Chemicals Mine in Wyoming – known for its large deposits of Trona, which is used for baking soda – has received a number of citations over the past five years for respirable silica, very tiny particles of quartz dust, which accounted for four of the mine’s nine violations in April.
“That's how miners get sick [and] develop silicosis, which is an entirely preventable occupational lung disease,” he said. “Once a miner's developed it, there is no cure for it and it only gets progressively worse. It can rob a miner of his or her ability to retire in dignity [and] can ultimately lead to the miner losing his or her life.”
The data, published at the end of May, comes from the MHSA's monthly impact inspections at mines that, according to the agency, “merit increased attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns." These compliance checks arose from disasters like the one at the West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine in 2010 that killed 29 miners.
“It’s us going and taking a closer look to see what we may find in addition to our regular inspections," Williamson said. "And we do find things.”
Williamson also noted that the industry has seen 24 deaths so far this year, including one in Idaho and one in Nevada. That’s 6 shy of 2022's total.
“It’s 24 too many,” he said. “It's a higher number than anyone in the mining industry would like for that number to be at this point, getting close to about halfway through the year.”
He called on operators and miners to take a more active role in calling out hazards early on before they become a bigger issue.
“What is really troubling to me is, [these violations are] also some of the same issues that we're seeing during our fatal accident investigations, and that we're identifying as root causes in our fatal accident reports,” he said. “Unfortunately, we continue to find them, and that's why we're going to keep looking.”
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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