The U.S. Mine Safety Commission ruled Aug. 24 that an Indiana coal mine violated federal safety standards when it continued to operate an energized drill with explosive amounts of methane present.
This resulted in the commission upholding a $96,000 Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) fine against the mine operator, Peabody Midwest.
Manager held personally responsible, fined $6K
In a unanimous decision, the commission found the mine endangered workers by continuing to operate the drill during a methane inundation, creating the risk of a catastrophic explosion.
Allowing the drill to remain energized and continuing to work were unwarrantable failures, according to the commission.
The commission also found that the mine manager who oversaw the work at the time was personally liable for the violations and fined him $6,000.
Violations were ‘unwarrantable failures’
Peabody Midwest was conducting exploratory drilling when the drill punched through a wall into an old mine. Methane gas “began blasting through the drill hole,” according to MSHA. Methane-measuring devices indicated the volume of methane was in the range where it’s explosive if an ignition source is introduced. An energized drill could be an ignition source.
MSHA issued two citations for:
- failure to deenergize the drill, and
- for continuing to perform work.
Both of these were deemed “unwarrantable failures” to comply with mandatory standards. That designation establishes more severe consequences for violations caused by aggravated conduct.
A penalty was also proposed against the manager who supervised the work “because he knew or should have known that he was required to shut down the drill and stop work.”
Mandatory standards require mine operators to evacuate the area, deenergize equipment and disconnect it at the power source, and perform no other work in the event of a methane inundation like this one.
Instead, Peabody Midwest and its manager “continued to run the drill, pulling out drill bits in an attempt to clear the hole so that it could be plugged.”