Exposure to mixed coal mine dust that contains silica — a carcinogen — can lead to the development of pneumoconiosis, commonly known as black lung disease. (Getty Images)
Federal officials found 42 health and safety violations at a Logan County mine operated by the family of Gov. Jim Justice.
The U.S. Department of Labor announced Tuesday the Mine Safety and Health Administration found the violations during an impact inspection at Kentucky Fuel Corp.’s WV-3 surface mine in Logan County.
According to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, the director and president of Kentucky Fuel Corporation is Justice’s son, James C. Justice III.
MSHA said it conducts impact inspections at mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement because of a history of poor compliance history, previous accidents, injuries, and illnesses and compliance concerns. The agency started doing impact inspections after the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, which killed 29 West Virginia miners and was one of the deadliest mine disasters in United States history.
Inspectors cited the mine operator with 17 “significant and substantial” violations and three “unwarrantable failure” findings. According to MSHA, significant and substantial violations are reasonably likely to cause a reasonably serious injury or illness, and unwarrantable failure” findings “occur when an inspector finds aggravated conduct that constitutes more than ordinary negligence.”
In all, MSHA issued 242 violations in June at mines in Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
“The Mine Safety and Health Administration remains troubled by the fact that our impact inspections continue to discover the same hazards we’ve identified as root causes for fatal accidents and that we know can cause serious occupational illnesses,” Chris Williamson, assistant secretary for mine safety and health, said in a news release. “Mine operators are responsible for providing a safe and healthy work environment; this includes controlling miners’ exposure to health hazards like silica, preventing safety hazards such as unsafe electrical equipment and potential slips, trips and falls, and ensuring adequate workplace examinations and training.”
One of the mine’s unwarrantable failure orders was for aggravated conduct for failing to maintain effective dust-control measures on a drill.
“Drill operators face heightened risk of exposure to respirable crystalline silica, a carcinogen far more toxic than coal dust alone,” MSHA said in a news release. “Exposure to unhealthy levels of silica can lead to debilitating and deadly work-related illnesses such as silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and progressive massive fibrosis.”
MSHA also issued unwarrantable failure orders for safety defects found on haul equipment, including defective emergency steering, damaged tires, significant oil leaks and a defective back-up alarm.
Accidents involving powered haulage in the mining industry have been a leading cause of fatal workplace injuries, the agency said. By law, operators are required by law to correct these conditions on haul trucks before the equipment is used.
The mine safety administration has cited Kentucky Fuel Corp. for similar violations 13 times in the last two years, it said.
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment. An attorney for Justice’s companies did not return a call seeking comment.
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